mystery The answer to the clues may be found at the bottom of this column.    Teachers and Parents: Enter to win an entire set of Dawn’s nature books of one title for your home or classroom. It's fun and easy!
Just read the clues below. They describe an aspect of nature—a plant, animal, mineral, habitat, or natural process.
When you're ready to make your guess about who or what I am, click ENTER NOW.
Who Am I?
spacerglass1 Clue 1:  I'm a member of the "dog family."
glass1 Clue 2:  I live throughout North America in deserts, prairies, forests, and even in towns and cities.
glass1 Clue 3:  You might hear me howling at night to communicate with my pack.
glass1 Clue 4:  Don't let me trick you—I am NOT a wolf.
Do you think you know who I am? ENTER NOW.
Entries should be submitted no later than noon on Friday.
If you guessed correctly, you’re automatically entered into the monthly drawing for a set of nature books from Dawn Publications.
A contest winner will be announced at the end of September.
Throughout the school year, clues for a new Who Am I are posted no later than Sunday night, so you can use them with your class on Monday morning.Good luck!
The answer to last week's mystery was: SEASHELLS Although Inside Outside Nature blog is changing it's focus, this weekly "Who Am I?" will remain the same! Teachers, click here to get ideas about how to use the contest with your students.  

Monthly Archives: November 2012

Illustrator Christopher Canyon

The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t apply to picture books. It’s the cover illustration that entices us to actually pick up the book and read it. That’s why illustrators are so important. This week’s guest blogger is a talented and experienced illustrator—Christopher Canyon!

by Christopher Canyon:

Ever since my childhood, I’ve always loved drawing and painting wildlife. Many of the books I have illustrated are about animals and natural habitats.

Whether I’m sketching birds in my backyard or doing research in wild places, I love learning about the world through creating art.

I’ve been creating picture books for a long time. Some of the stories I’ve illustrated are about fascinating people and places. These projects have taken me on many amazing research adventures around the world to learn about the subject matter I’ve illustrated. Research is a very important and exciting part of creating a book!

No matter what kind of a book I’m illustrating—be it a true story, make-believe tale, poem, or song, I always begin my work with nothing more than a pencil and a journal. With these basic tools I’m able to journey to unlimited possibilities with my writing, drawing, and imagination to explore how I’m going to share  my art and creativity with others.


Outside: Journal Just Like Christopher

Ask your students to follow Christopher Canyon’s example and create a nature journal. An easy way to begin is to have them take paper and pencil outside and answer three simple questions: What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? Once students answer these questions, have them carefully observe and draw one object. Tip: When writing and drawing outside, it’s helpful to use a clipboard, but students may also use a piece of cardboard and large paper clip. You may download a nature journal form from Donna Young’s website.


Inside: Forest Web of Life

Christopher Canyon’s illustrations make the plants and animals of the ancient forest come alive. Explore their interconnected web by downloading a Forest Web of Life lesson created by Carol Reed Jones, author of The Tree in the Ancient Forest.


More Facts and Fun with Illustrations

Christopher Canyon has illustrated several classic songs by the late singer-songwriter, John Denver, including Sunshine On My Shoulders. On a cold December day it can be fun to remember the joy of summer sunshine by reading aloud (and singing along to) Sunshine on My Shoulders.

Family stories and memories are a wonderful catalysts for children to write and illustrate their own stories. Read aloud the books Grandma’s Feather Bed and Take Me Home, Country Roads as examples of special family memories.


Discuss the whimsical illustrations created by Christopher Canyon. Ask children to illustrate one of their favorite family memories. Have them write a paragraph or story to go along with the illustration. Set aside a special time for author/illustrators to present their stories and art to the class.


Children can write and illustrate their stories online at Dot’s Story Factory at PBS Kids.


More About Christopher Canyon

When Christopher isn’t in his studio, he enjoys traveling and providing educational and entertaining programs for schools, libraries, and conferences. His school presentations promote the joys of reading, literature, and the arts.

Christopher received his formal art education at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Columbus, Ohio. His work has been selected for many exhibits and publications including the Society of Illustrators, the Mazza Collection at the University of Findlay, Ohio, and the Natural History magazine.

Christopher lives with his wife Jeanette, cats, and fish in Columbus, Ohio. Jeanette is also a gifted artist and illustrator. Look for her as a guest blogger in 2013. Meanwhile, visit Christopher and Jeanette at their website.



Terrific Turkeys

A common image at Thanksgiving is a big turkey. Although it’s sometimes shown on a plate for dinner, I prefer the image of a wild turkey proudly displaying its tail feathers. As you may know, Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey rather than the eagle to be the national bird for the United States.  He reasoned that it’s a respectable bird that shows courage. Although he did admit that it’s also vain and silly at times.

I’ve gotten to know the habits of the wild turkeys that live right out my backdoor. The males “strut their stuff” in early spring as they try to impress females. And they ARE impressive with their glossy bronze wings, blue and red heads, and fanned tails.


Turkey chicks are born in late spring and immediately start following the mother hen on her foraging strolls.  I even had one mother and baby at the bird feeders on my deck.

Now that the chicks are grown, I often see a “parade” of  turkey heads passing by my window.

I collected dozens of turkey feathers to bring into my class this week so the students could examine them and practice “zipping them up” as if they were preening. (It’s illegal to possess feathers of migratory birds, but it’s perfectly OK to have feathers from game birds, such as turkeys).


Author Cathryn Falwell describes turkey behavior through the seasons in her book Gobble, Gobble. It’s written in rhyming verse and makes a wonderful read-aloud for young children.


Falwell has created a packet of creative activities for teachers, which is available on the Dawn Publications website. I’ve included two of her activities below.

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving filled with gratitude for nature’s amazing creatures.


Inside: Become a Nature Artist

The illustrations in Gobble, Gobble were created using three techniques: collage, print making, and block printing. Give students a print making experience using tempura or poster paint. Apply paint to an object with a brush or dip the object into a small pool of paint. Transfer the paint to a piece of paper. Some good print making objects include:

  • Natural Objects—leaves, bark, flat stones, shells (If you look at the back of Gobble, Gobble you’ll clearly see print making using leaves.)
  • Fruits and Vegetables—carrot, broccoli, onion, apple, celery, potatoes, or any other produce that isn’t juicy when cut. Some of these may need to cut to produce a flat surface.
  • Found Objects—bottle caps, jar lids, bits of hardware, sponges, coins, bubble wrap, and items from the recycling bin


Outside: The Flour Trick

In Gobble, Gobble arrow-shaped footprints lead a young backyard naturalist, Jenny, to a flock of funny-looking birds with big strong feet:

Wild Turkeys!


The Flour Trick is a great activity for parents to do with children at home over the Thanksgiving holiday. Children may discover animal movements that usually go unseen.

Near your home, sift flour onto the ground where you suspect animals pass by. Scatter seeds (or appropriate food for the animals in your community) on and around the flour-dusted area. Come back the next day to see if any animals have visited. Are there tracks? Can you identify them? What story do they tell?


More Turkey Fun and Facts

Read Turkey Facts and Trivia on Aristotle’s Thanksgiving website.

Make a paper bag turkey and find other crafts on the Kaboose website.

Find lots of Thanksgiving games at the Kids’ Activities website.



The Mysterious Mast Year

Like a busy squirrel, I scurried around collecting acorns.

Oak woodlands are one of main habitats in my area. I wanted to introduce my elementary students to the ecological connections in this amazing habitat, so I planned an outside game.  I had just one concern—the game required 100 acorns and I didn’t think I’d be able to collect enough of them.

I had no reason to worry. I found acorns everywhere! As it turns out, my area is having a “mast year” — that’s when all of the  oak trees in a region produce a bumper crop of acorns. (Other states having mast years this fall include parts of Wisconsin, Tennessee,  and Virginia.)

I find it fascinating that even though oak trees are commonly found all across the country, scientists don’t really know why or when mast years will happen. Marc Abrams, a professor of forestry at Penn State, described the mast year phenomenon as “one of the amazing mysteries in nature that we still do not have a handle on. . . There’s no way to predict it.”

However, scientists do have a few theories. Some think that a mast year is nature’s way of saturating the market with acorns, so that after wildlife eat their fill, there will be enough acorns left to grow into seedlings. Other biologists believe that mast years are related to particular weather conditions that favor acorn production. And some believe mast years might be attributed to chemical communication through the trees root system.

Whatever the reason for the over abundance of acorns this year, the acorn woodpeckers, squirrels, and my students are happy it’s a mast year.


Inside: Acorns and Seed Dispersal

The word “acorn” is a combination of “ak” for oak and “corn” meaning seed thus acorn means oak seed. Young children will enjoy hearing the life story of an acorn in the book In a Nutshell by Joseph Anthony. And his other book, Dandelion Seed, follows a little seed as it floats to new adventures. This link will take you to an online kindergarten lesson about seed dispersal that includes both acorns and dandelion seeds.


Outside: Who Will Survive: Squirrels or Woodpeckers?

Acorn Woodpecker on granary tree.


Who will survive winter in the oak woodland—the Grey Squirrels who bury their acorns or the Acorn Woodpeckers who store their acorns in granary trees?

Your students will find out when they play this game (pdf),  which I modified from “Investigating the Oak Community” by Kay Antunez de Mayolo for the California Oak Foundation.

Although I used real acorns, if you’re not having a mast year, your students can make acorns out of clay.


More Acorn and Oak Tree Fun and Facts

Explore “Exciting Acorn Songs, Crafts and Activities Preschoolers Will Love” at the Bright Hub Education website.

Jays compete with  squirrels for acorns in this  hide-and-seek game from Earthwork’s Orchard Curriculum. For grades 2-5

Download a pdf of the Center for Ecoliteracy’s 38-page Oak Woodland Activity for interesting and informative lessons. Adaptable for grades 4-8