Short Stuff

Brief news items of interest to kids – from Siberian tigers to the Grinch's 50th birthday.

Mr. Grinch is 50

Is part of your holiday tradition reading or watching Dr. Seuss's classic story, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"? Well, did you know that this year, the Grinch turns 50? That's right. And a new edition of the beloved storybook helps commemorate this important birthday.

The 50th-anniversary retrospective edition naturally contains the tale of the Grinch and all the Whos down in Who-ville. But at the end, there's an extra section about how Dr. Seuss brought this Christmas story to life.

It turns out that he thought for many years about Christmas and its true meaning. By 1957, he was ready to write his story about how the joy of Christmas couldn't be stolen even if all the presents and holiday treats were.

Learning made fun

Speaking of great reading and the holidays, are there any books on your wish list? If not, you might want to add some. A few years ago, the Smithsonian Institution teamed up with children's science author Seymour Simon to publish some of his well-loved science picture books as a series.

You can choose from among more than a dozen books about the earth, animals, and outer space, among other topics. One of the latest releases is "Spiders." In this book, you can learn all about arachnids while getting an extremely close-up view of 30 of these hairy creepy-crawlies.

Some other fascinating titles in the series: "Volcanoes," "Weather," "Desti­nation: Space," "Snakes," and "Sharks." All the books feature awesome full-color photographs and lots of cool facts.

Pop goes a world record

What do soap bubbles and school-children have in common? Together, they helped break a world record! Last month, "bubbleologist" Sam Heath encased 50 kids in the world's biggest bubble. He accomplished the feat at the Science Museum in London. The gigantic bubble measured 11 feet across and was more than 5 feet high before it popped. The previous record was set earlier this year when 42 kids were enclosed in a bubble in the United States.

The students inside the bubble in Britain stood on a stage surrounded by a trough of soapy water. Mr. Heath dipped a metal hoop in the solution and carefully raised it above the kids' heads. Then, success!

To make the record official, representatives from Guinness World Records were there to witness the display. Hundreds of other students got to watch, too. How big a soap bubble can you blow?

Siberian success – for tigers, that is

Amur tigers (also known as Siberian tigers) have long been an endangered species – but now there's new hope that they're beginning to make a comeback.

Recent estimates put the number of Siberian tigers living in far eastern Russia at about 450. That may not sound like many, but considering that in the 1940s there were just 50 or so of the cats left, this increase is a reason to celebrate. Funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and other sources has helped conservation efforts succeed.

Siberian tigers are still endangered. But if game wardens in Russia can keep up the good work of stopping poachers and protecting the species, the felines could one day thrive.

Weird science

What will be the next breakthrough in clean-fuel technology? It could be termite guts! You may know that burning fossil fuels dirties the air and that one day they'll run out.

So scientists are working hard to find other fuels that are both cleaner and renew­able. They already know about biofuels such as ethanol made from corn. Now, they'd like to discover how to efficiently turn wood and wood waste into biofuel.

Here's where the termites come in. They love to wolf down wood for dinner. How do they do that? They have several stomachs with different types of microbes that break down wood, convert it into sugars, and turn those sugars into energy. Each kind of microbe releases different enzymes (special proteins) that aid in a different part of the digestion process.

Recently, a team of scientists identified many of these microbes and enzymes. As the scientists learn more about these teeny bugs and their enzymes, they might also learn how to turn wood into cleaner-burning fuel.

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