Children's Book Review: Varun's Quest: Into a Bee Tree and Other Adventures

As a parent (and a former scientist), I try to encourage my girls to explore the science of the world around us as often as possible.  This requires some creativity--and often a lot of prep-work on my part.  I was very excited to spend some time this summer reviewing the new book, Varun's Quest:  Into a Bee Tree and Other Adventures, by Timothy H. Goldsmith.  What did the girls and I think of this fictional story with real world science?

I received a complimentary copy of this book for use in my review--but, all opinions are my own.

Quick Summary of Varun's Quest:  Into a Bee Tree and Other Adventures.  Varun’s grandfather tells him about a mysterious and special place pictured on a dinner plate: a place “for the curious and closer than it seems.” Still perplexed as he goes to bed, Varun wakes in what appears to be the very place pictured on the plate, and soon thereafter he finds himself in the company of an Elf named Aubrey. They begin a game in which the Elf’s guiding rule is “you can see a lot just by looking.” Among his adventures Varun encounters a sleepy bat, reduced in size he comes face to face with a saucy honey bee, and he has a narrow escape from the clutches of a hungry praying mantis. In time Varun realizes the game is a personal quest with an important goal. He discovers that the lives of plants and animals are a source of fascination as well as mystery, for much remains about the world that is not yet understood. He also learns that experiments are ways of discovering new knowledge, and doing an experiment is both rewarding and fun.

The Elf provides an element of fantasy in the story, but his role is as guide, always inviting Varun to observe and to try to figure out the meaning of what he is seeing. What Varun is seeing is sometimes commonplace, sometimes beyond the personal experience of most adults, but is invariably a window on the natural world, revealing both the beauty and complexity of living organisms.

With a plot dotted with real-world science, Varun realizes the lives of plants and animals are a source of fascination as well as mystery, and he and the reader begin to think like budding scientists. This book meets Common Core Standards for grades 3-4.

My girls loved the mix of fantasy and fact.  As they have grown, they have more and more difficulty throwing themselves into far-fetched fantasy written for children.  While Aubrey the Elf is certainly a fun, fantasy character, the facts and imagery that the author dots throughout the tales are presented wonderfully to hold both the interest of children (and parents reading along).

Varun's Quest offers a wonderful launching point for further exploration.  I've mentioned that it meets Common Core Standards presently for grades 3-4--making it a wonderful resource for homeschooling families.  Even if you aren't homeschooling, this book does a wonderful job presenting the science information that the kids are (or should be) learning in science class at school--as well as language skills.  Varun's Quest:  Into a Bee Tree and Other Adventures is the perfect book to use as a lauching point for further outdoor/nature/science exploration as a family.  Kids are very visual learners and Goldsmith creates a gem with the story and Julia Child's beautiful illustrations. 

Would I recommend Varun's Quest:  Into a Bee Tree and Other Adventures?  The girls and I loved this book.  It is the perfect book to read together as a family or for more advanced elementary readers to read alone.   I love to use books like this to inspire hands on exploration.  It prompts budding scientists to explore and learn as readers will want to see nature at work in their own real world.  This is probably the best science based fictional book that I've read for children.  Varun's fantasy world keeps the kids entertained--and encourages them to learn and explore the real world.  Science is a difficult subject for many children.  If you would like to supplement some of the elementary school biology coursework--this book is a must have for your home library. 

Buy Varun's Quest:  Into a Bee Tree and Other Adventures?

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Book Spotlight Tour: Everyday Celebrations with Maria Loggia

We spend a lot of time in the kitchen here in our our little corner of the world!  Today, I am excited to join the spotlight book tour for Chef Maria Loggia's book:  Everyday Celebrations with Maria Loggia.

About Everyday Celebrations with Maria Loggia.  Maria Loggia’s kitchen door is always open. Her home and garden are a gathering place for friends and family, who come to share her easygoing enthusiasm and generosity – and her inspired Italian cuisine. In this, her second book, Loggia celebrates the seasons with 16 sumptuous menus – from a spontaneous al fresco garden party to a slow-simmered midwinter feast and a traditional Sunday family lunch.

Author & Chef: Maria Loggia
Category: Non-fiction
Genre: Cooking, Food & Wine, 176 pages

Buy Everyday Celebrations with Maria Loggia
Cardinal Publishing  *  Amazon.com

Try One of the Recipes from the Book!

Petto di Pollo Farcito con Uva e Noci
Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Grapes and Walnuts


For filling:

1 tbsp (15 ml) unsalted butter
2 tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
¾ cup (180 ml) walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup (125 ml) red seedless grapes, quartered
2 tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped fresh chives
2 tbsp (30 ml) bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
7 oz (200 g) soft goat cheese, cut in 6 slices 

For chicken:
6 tbsp (90 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
6 bone-in chicken breasts, skin on
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 tbsp (45 ml) unsalted butter, softened
1 orange, cut into wedges
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, each cut in half
5 bay leaves
To serve:
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

To prepare filling: Heat butter and oil in a large skillet and sauté shallots until soft, 1 to 2 minutes, and remove from heat. Stir in walnuts, grapes, chives and bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool slightly. Leave goat cheese aside for now.

To prepare chicken: Oil a 14-inch (35 cm) round earthenware tiella or roasting pan with 2 tbsp (30 ml) of the olive oil and set aside. On a baking sheet, season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Make a lengthwise slit in each chicken breast, being careful not to cut all the way through. (This will form the pocket for the stuffing.) Rub remaining 4 tbsp (60 ml) olive oil into the chicken (including in the pockets). Divide stuffing equally among chicken breasts, stuffing it into the slit in each breast, and top with a slice of goat cheese. Pull the chicken skin over the filling and secure with toothpicks. Smear butter over the skin and season again to taste with salt and pepper.

Gently transfer chicken to prepared tiella. Scatter orange wedges, rosemary and bay leaves around chicken. Roast 35 to 40 minutes, or until juices run clear when the thickest part of the breast is pierced. Then broil 2 to 3 minutes, or until skin is crisp and golden. Drizzle with orange juice and serve warm with pan juices.

Serves 6

Tips from Maria:

Consigli di cucina (kitchen tips)
The chicken breasts can be assembled the day before, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. When ready to serve, bring chicken to room temperature and cook as instructed. Doing it this way allows the flavours time to meld together beautifully.

Che cos’è? (what is it?)
I’m convinced food tastes better when cooked in a shallow, glazed earthenware dish known in Italian as a tiella. I find earthenware dishes distribute heat slowly and evenly as the food cooks. Aromas and flavours are intensified and casseroles never stick or dry out.

To season a tiella: Before using your tiella the first time, immerse the dish in cold water to soak overnight. The next day, empty the tiella and wipe it dry. Rub the inside with olive oil and place in a preheated 300°F (150°C) oven for 1½ hours. Remove seasoned tiella from oven and place on a wooden board or thick tablecloth to cool. (If placed on a surface like granite or a cold stovetop, it will crack.) To clean a tiella, soak it in warm, soapy water, then scrub with a soft sponge.

Meet the Author

Maria Loggia is one of Montreal's best-loved Italian cooking teachers. Her Tavola Mia cooking school in the village of Hudson is a warm, inviting place to learn about Italian cuisine. She also appears regularly on television, is featured in newspapers and magazines, and leads culinary tours in Italy.

Maria finds inspiration in her Italian heritage and draws on family recipes that go back generations. She founded Tavola Mia, her at-home cooking school in 1999. Through her study of Italy's regional cuisines, which has included numerous sojourns back to her native country, she has acquired great expertise in the art of Italian cooking. Her passion, humor and dedication to excellence have made her an inspiring teacher. Using fresh local ingredients, Tavola Mia celebrates the seasons in authentic, irrepressible Italian style.

An Interview with Maria Loggia

Maria Loggia from Pierre Blais on Vimeo.

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Social Work Career Degrees and Options

This post is brought to you by Social Work at UNE.

Selecting the type of career field that you want to go into could be one of the toughest decisions you'll ever make. If you think you might enjoy a career that allows you to work with other people and help them, then a career as a social worker just might be the right one for you. There are numerous institutions where you can obtain a degree in the field, such as UNE's social worker degree. With a degree, there are various different areas of social work that you can choose to focus on.

Just as with any other type of degree, different levels of education will allow you to practice in different fields of social work. For instance, with a Bachelor of Social Work degree, you can choose to practice in the following job fields:

• Case consultant
• Child protective services worker
• Child life specialist
• Court-appointed special advocate
• Criminal justice social worker
• Gerontology social worker

With a Master of Social Work degree, you can choose to practice social work in the following areas:

• Clinical
• Psychiatric
• School
• Employee assistance program
• AIDS and HIV services

With a Doctorate of Social Work degree, you can go on further to become one of the following:

• Social work professor
• Head of a social work practice
• Policy advocate
• Policy advisor

The amount of time that it takes you to obtain a career in the area of social work you desire depends greatly upon what type of degree is required for the career choice you've made. Generally, bachelor's programs require four years of schooling, and master's programs take an additional two. Doctorate programs mandate an additional two to four years after completion of a master's program. There are certain amounts of supervised work experience that you must obtain as well. For instance, accredited bachelor's programs for social workers require 400 hours of supervised field experience, and accredited master's programs mandate 900 hours of supervised experience.

Regardless of the type of social worker career that you want to enter, doing so is possible with the appropriate education, training and experience. Careers in the social work industry seem to be on the rise, so for people looking for a stable career field to go into, this might be a good choice filled with ample opportunities.