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Children reading books

Books Make Great Gifts for Kids

When it comes to buying gifts for kids, it’s easy to overlook the obvious. We’re distracted by catalogs, commercials, fancy store displays, and the repeated cries of “I want that.” Who can blame us for filling the bottom of the tree with toys? But there’s one gift idea for kids that they will adore and their parents will applaud. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s sure to provide many hours of use. (And don’t tell the young ones, but it’s educational too.) Of course, I’m talking about books. When you’re shopping for gifts, don’t go to a toy store. The bookstore is where it’s at. Presents should say, “I know you, and I know what you like.” That’s why it’s a thrill to find a perfect book for the children in your life. Here are a few of my favorite gifts for kids: For Kids who Love Animals...

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Yellow-bellied Marmot

A Look at Yellow-Bellied Marmots

In this week’s NatureSmart column, Stan Tekiela talks about yellow-bellied marmots. Yes, I admit it, I am a nut about nature. Not just the big amazing birds and animals, such as eagles and bears, but the small critters too. I realized this (again) on my recent trip to Colorado. I had stopped along a steep mountain road and just below me were several Yellow-bellied Marmots (Marmota flaviventris). You might be more familiar with their eastern cousin, the Woodchuck. Both are a type of ground squirrel that eats plants for a living and hibernates all winter. Well, anyway, there I was filming these chubby, rock-scampering squirrels; I was thrilled to spend many hours just watching and capturing their behaviors, despite the cold, biting wind roaring up from the valley below. The marmots didn’t seem to mind the wind at all. I was feeling lucky to find these guys because it’s estimated that they...

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The Start of the Elk Rut

In today’s NatureSmart column, Stan Tekiela shares with us his encounter with a large bull elk. Sounding determined and confident, a large bull elk, most likely weighing 1,200 pounds or more, bellowed and bugled right in front of me. His back was arched, his head was held upward, his mouth was pursed in a funnel shape, and his antlers flanked his strong shoulders. The sound of his bugling echoed off the mountain valley walls and came around for a second time, amplifying his clear message of strength and dominance. He was keeping a watchful eye over 20 or more cow elk in his harem. From over my shoulder I suddenly heard another bull elk respond with his own impressive bugle call, followed by some deep belly grunts. By the sound of it, he was very close. Neither I, nor the bull elk I was photographing, could see this other bull, so it came as a...

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Winnewissa Falls

Visiting Winnewissa Falls with Lisa Crayford

Join Lisa Crayford, author of Waterfalls of Minnesota, on a journey to Winnewissa Falls Winnewissa Falls is situated amid the pipestone quarries at Pipestone National Monument. The falls, along with the surrounding quarries, are considered sacred by many American Indians. Our journey to Winnewissa Falls began on a rainy Saturday morning in June. With umbrellas in hand, we first headed up to the visitor center, which houses the Upper Midwest Indian Cultural Center. It’s home to a gift shop, museum exhibits, a bookstore, and a 22-minute film. The quarries here have produced pipestone (also known as Catlinite) for thousands of years. The soft, malleable stone is used in ceremonial objects, especially pipes. Quarrying is limited to American Indians, but, during the summer months, American Indians sometimes lead cultural demonstrations where visitors can see pipestone carving in progress. When you are ready to head to the waterfall, grab a trail map. You’ll want to plan on a good hour for the 0.75-mile nature walk, which is known as the circle tour. On...

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Halloween and Scary Bats

We are excited to share Stan Tekiela’s first blog post on our website today. Stan will be contributing regularly for your reading pleasure. So, without further ado, here is his post about scary bats—just in time for Halloween! At the end of October, we tend to contemplate scary animals. Well, I guess I understand. After all, Halloween plays a huge part in our culture. But what do you know about Halloween? Very basically, in ancient days, people believed we were switching over from a season of life to a season of death at this time of year. At the end of summer and fall (warm and prosperous seasons), food would become scarce and people naturally worried about surviving another winter. So it makes sense that in the past this was a frightening time of year. It was only later, in more modern times, that we began to associate scary animals with Halloween. By the way, the name Halloween...

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Dinosaur Destinations

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

A Museum and Cenozoic Mammal Fossil Beds Site Jon Kramer, Julie Martinez, and Vernon Morris, authors of the book Dinosaur Destinations, explore the most exciting dinosaur and fossil sites near you. Today we take a look at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is one of the greatest geological and paleontological preserves on Earth. Consisting of three separate land units, the fossil record here spans an incredible 41 million years, covering most of the Cenozoic Era, aka the “Age of Mammals.” So can you guess what kind of fossils you’ll find here? Well, they aren’t dinosaurs! Over millions of years, the area was home to all kinds of incredible mammals: from primitive rhinos and three-toed horses, to saber-toothed cats and huge short-faced bears. And those are just a start! The Monument is also home to the famous Painted Hills, which are aptly named. Long story short: A visit is well worth the trip,...

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Tall Ships

Tall Ships on the Great Lakes

Whether you witness a tall ship breaking over the horizon or see one up close at a festival, there’s nothing quite like being in the presence of a full-fledged sailing ship. These majestic vessels are often thought of as ocean-going vessels, but many tall ships ply the waters of the Great Lakes. Some have homeports on the Great Lakes, whereas others are based abroad and only visit the region occasionally. Kaitlin Morrison, author of Tall Ships: History Comes to Life on the Great Lakes, shares with us the sea story of the Friends Good Will. A Tall Ship Sails Great Lakes as a Memorial to the Original that Served in the War of 1812 Friends Good Will is a replica of the famous warship of the same name that served in the War of 1812. The original ship was constructed in 1810 and participated in the Battle of Lake Erie. She was built as a merchant ship and was transporting fresh supplies to...

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Yellow Morel Mushrooms

Mushrooms of the Northeast

Discovering the Wonderful World of Mushrooms With mushrooms, the sheer number of possibilities makes them a challenging but fascinating subject. Within the large number of different mushroom species, there is an amazing variety of characteristics. Additionally, some of the features are tactile or even sensory elements, like smell or taste. Identifying mushrooms from a book is a good way to begin learning about them, but when edibility is your goal you must be extremely careful. It is recommended to obtain a first-hand, positive ID from an expert before eating any mushroom, as many of the toxic varieties look similar to the edible ones and could make you very ill, or even kill you! It is tempting to look for a simple rule or test that tells you whether an unknown mushroom is edible; unfortunately, no such rule exists. Taking the time to learn how to identify each species by its unique characteristics (even though some may be hard to see) is the only appropriate...

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Children reading books

Get Kids Reading in Five Easy Steps

Parents and teachers everywhere want to get kids reading—and with good reason. Reading isn’t just relaxing and peaceful; it also increases intelligence, improves communication skills, and even helps readers to better understand others’ feelings and emotions. And reading is fun too! But what are we to do for children who don’t like it? Will these reluctant readers ever find joy in books? Yes, it’s absolutely possible with the right approach. Here are five steps to get you started. 1. Read to Them If you want to get kids reading, begin by sharing books on a regular basis. For younger children, a story before bed is always welcome. At my house, the 6-year-old loves silly (yet educational!) books like Whose Butt? and Critter Litter. For reluctant readers who are “too old” for bedtime stories, get creative. Perhaps dig out a book of interest after dinner and share a chapter or a short story. With Halloween approaching,...

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Monsters of the Midwest

Creepy Tales of Monsters Just in Time for Halloween Does telling creepy tales around the campfire sound like a perfect night out? Is scaring yourself silly your idea of a good time? Well, the Midwest is home to some pretty spooky ghost stories, but wait until you read about the region’s terrifying monsters in our latest book, Monsters of the Midwest: True Tales of Bigfoot, Werewolves & Other Legendary Creatures by Jessica Freeburg and Natalie Fowler. Are you brave enough to find out about monsters and the other chilling creatures that have been seen in the Heartland? In their book Monsters of the Midwest,  paranormal investigators Jessica Freeburg and Natalie Fowler share reportedly true accounts of the strangest, most bizarre sightings of Big Foot, werewolves, and other monsters. Their collection of stories is sure to keep you up at night. Try to remember: That noise you hear… it’s probably just the wind. If you are a skeptic, remember...

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