Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Science Poetry Pairings - Food Chains

A food chain shows the ways in which the organisms in an ecosystem interact with one another according to what they eat. When a series of food chains weave together in an ecosystem they are collectively known as a food web. 

Today's poetry book joins a pair of books that look at different aspects or components of food chains.

Poetry Book
What's for Dinner?: Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World, written by Katherine B. Hauth and illustrated by David Clark, is a collection of poems about food chain topics. While the title may not indicate that this is a book of poems about organisms and where they fit in a food chain, one need only look at the cover to see fly--frog--big, nasty predator. Before even reading the poems you could engage students in a discussion of the partial food chain in this illustration. What kind of ecosystem is this? What are the likely producers? What do flies eat? What kind of animal might eat a frog? The introductory poem, "What's for Dinner," explains why animals must find food. 

What's for Dinner?

The might seek meat,
or nectar sweet,
the white of eggs,
or yolk,
sleek fish, dead trees,
fresh blood, live bees,
or prickly artichoke.

But finding food
is not a joke.
Living things must eat
or croak.

What follows this introductory piece are humorous, graphic, scientific, inventive and just downright fun poems. Accompanied by equally graphic and humorous illustrations, the perfect pairing of word and art gives us a book that readers will love.

In the poem entitled "Waste Management," a rather haughty-looking vulture pulls at a strand of the innards of a carcass while standing on the exposed ribs. Here is the poem that accompanies it.
No dainty vegetarian,
the vulture rips up carrion.
It likes to feast before the worms,
which saves us all from stink and germs.
While most of the poems are about animals, the last entry, "Eating Words," uses poetry and word roots to define insectivore, carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore.

The back matter includes a section entitled More Words About the Poems, which explains a bit more of the science and further explains vocabulary terms such as symbiosis, parasitism, mutualism, commensalism, and more. More Words About  the Animals provides background information for each of the poems. Here's the text that expands on the poem "Waste Management."
Turkey vultures don't have strong beaks and feet. They can't tear into tough hide and muscle until it's been "tenderized" by decay. A turkey vulture's featherless head and neck may look strange, but skin is easier to clean than feathers after the bird plunges its head into a rotting carcass.
Poems and Text ©Katherine Hauth. All rights reserved.

The final page of the book provides some additional titles for learning more about the animals in the book.

Nonfiction Picture Books
Here are two books by April Pulley Sayre that pair nicely to help students learn about food chains and their components.

Trout Are Made of Trees, written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Kate Endle, looks at simple food chains and the life cycle of trout. What happens when leaves fall from a tree and land in a stream?

Here's how the book begins.
Trout are made of trees.
In fall, trees let go of leaves,
which swirl and twirl
and slip into streams.
They ride in a rush
above rocks
and over rapids.
They snag and
settle soggily down.
From here they become food for bacteria and a home for algae. They are further broken down by little critters, like crane flies, caddisflies, shrimp and stoneflies. These critters are eaten by predators. Guess where those leaves are now? When the predators are eaten by trout, the trout are made of trees.

The book ends with this thought.
Trout are made of trees.
So are the bears
and the people
who catch the trout and eat them.
Text ©April Pulley Sayre. All rights reserved.

The back matter includes information on the trout life cycle, a section entitled Be a Stream Hero that offers steps to ensure our streams and local water sources stay clean, and a list of resources providing additional information. This is a beautifully illustrated book (mixed media collage) and a terrific introduction to food chains.

Vulture View, written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, focuses on an important member of the food chain—decomposers. Both scavengers and decomposers play a very important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. In helping to break down dead organisms, they are responsible for returning basic nutrients to the soil so that they may reenter the chain. In this book, we get a glimpse of the scavenging role that vultures play, along with some poetry and interesting facts about these oft maligned birds.

In rhythmic, precise text, Sayre teaches us much about the amazing turkey vulture. Here's an excerpt on how they find their food.
Vultures smell the air.
They sniff, search, seek
for foods that . . .
(turn the page)
. . . REEK!

Those fragrant flowers?
No, no.

That spicy smoke?
No, no.

That stinky dead deer?
Yes, yes!
Text ©April Pulley Sayre. All rights reserved.

Readers learn that vultures soar on thermals, taking to the air as it warms, returning to roost in the trees as air cools. The book ends with a section entitled Get To Know Vultures, with the Subsections: (1) Soaring Up, Up, Up!; (2) The Vulture Family; (3) Nature's Cleanup Crew; (4) Family Life and Range; and (5) Heads Up, Young Scientists. It is packed with information and even includes a link to the Turkey Vulture Society's web site, as well as information on festivals that celebrate vultures/buzzards.

Perfect Together
There are no producers in Hauth's book of poems, only consumers and decomposers, so I'd start by reading TROUT ARE MADE OF TREES and from there examine the range of organisms in WHAT'S FOR DINNER? and what they eat. Kids often tend to forget about decomposers and their importance in the chain, so I'd wrap up with VULTURE VIEW. At the end I'd ask kids to create their own food chains based on their readings.

For additional resources, consider these sites.
  • In the BBC Bitesize Science - Food Chains Activity, kids try to discover the organism at the top of the food chain in a land and sea ecosystem. As the parts of the chain are filled in, information about the animals appears on the screen.
  • After reading a bit about the organisms that make up the food chain, kids play Chain Reaction - Build a Food Chain and try to build a chain that might be found in a forest or a northern ecosystem (think Arctic).
  • In The Food Chain Game students drag parts of the food chain into the correct position. Once the chain is complete (and correct), kids can watch it come to life and see the chain in action.
  • The PBS video Wild Kratts: Up the Ocean Food Chain! describes the organisms in a simple ocean food chain.


  1. Tricia, these posts are such a treasure trove of resources! Thank you so much for taking the time to put them together.

  2. These books look terrific. I am so enjoying this series of posts and am discovering a lot of wonderful books new to me. Thanks.