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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Middle Grade Reads to Encourage Observation and Discovery

Exploring the outdoors is not just a summertime activity. Getting outside on an autumn day is a wonderful time to encourage outdoor exploration. These middle grade titles, both fiction and nonfiction, are perfect to jumpstart curiosity!

The True Blue Scouts of Sugarcane Swamp by Kathi Appelt

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt

Finding Wonders by Jeannine Atkins

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Penderwicks : A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

The Wolf Keepers by Elise Broach

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel by Nancy Castaldo

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Saving Wonder by Mary Knight

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Keeping Green this School Year

There are many things you can do to keep "green" this school year.  I borrowed many of these ideas from NYS Department of Environmental Education. 

School Supply Shopping 

  • Reuse school items left over from last year; backpacks, lunch bags, water bottle, scissors, binders, and any pens and pencils. 
  • Search for products that aren't sold with a lot of packaging, and recycle any packaging materials you can.
  • Buy recycled paper and other items. You might even find a backpack or sneakers made from recycled materials. 
  • Buy non-toxic alternatives - look for non-toxic pens, markers, art supplies and other school supplies.
  • Use rechargeable batteries whenever possible.

School Lunches

  • Think "reusable" when packing lunches - use reusable lunch boxes or canvas bags, sandwich containers and utensils. If not "reusable" think biodegradable. 
  • For water or other drinks, bring a reusable stainless steel bottle or bisphenol A-free (BPA-free) bottle.
  • Pack your own lunch instead of buying foods that involve a lot of packaging. Look for bulk food items instead of those that are packaged as single servings and package them yourself in reusable containers! You'll also save money! 

Greening Your Classroom

  • Encourage your school to institute a good recycling program or expand their existing program. Compost cafeteria waste. 
  • Use both sides of paper when possible.
  • Start a school garden! 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sniffer Dog Zuma on Television - An Interview with Handler Donna Randolph

For those of you who have read SNIFFER DOGS: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World, you already know how awesome these dogs are at their respective detection jobs. Every day they are working with law enforcement, military personnel, and private citizens to make our world a better place. 

One of these awesome sniffers recently appeared in the television documentary series, American Ripper. Zuma and Donna Randolph were brought in to help the investigation of a very old case. It was such a treat for me to watch the pair at work again. I hadn’t seen Zuma in the field since I met up with her during my Sniffer Dog research in 2012. 

Zuma from SNIFFER DOGS (photo by author)

Thanks, Donna, for sharing the story of this experience with us now! 
Zuma has been on so many cases. How did this one, for a documentary tv  investigation, compare with the others? 

     This was a very difficult search which I expected to yield no results.   The area was affected by so many things.   First, since the crime took place 120 years ago, new houses were built, the original house was moved, modern roadways were constructed, and modern utilities were installed.  That made most of the area nearly impossible to search.   Not only that, there were many feral (not pets but free roaming) cats living in the area and they were all interested in what Zuma was doing.  In addition, many of the yards we searched were either “owned” by other dogs or they had many beautiful flower beds.   We had to negotiate cat relations, dog relations,  be careful not damage any flowers, and search in difficult conditions. This was by far our most difficult and stressful search ever.   Being filmed while you worked added even more to our difficulties.   So many different scents to work through and sort for Zuma, including working around and with the film crew, not to mention street traffic, a yard with chickens in a chicken coop, and many more distractions. 

Did she have to do multiple takes for her scene? 

    Yes, we did. Once she discovered an actual source, they filmed it from different angles.   She was very happy to perform over and over for her toy reward. 

Forensic canines have the ability to find old bones, even fragments. *spoiler alert* Were you able to be on the set while the archeological team came to dig the area where Zuma alerted? 

    No, we were home during the dig.   I wish we could have been there to help with digging and sifting.  We could have worked with the archaeologist to help shrink the search area.  I did know the days they were digging and I got a hint of a possible find but no details or idea of the significance.  That made viewing our episode very exciting. 

Has Zuma continued training every week for her job? 

     Zuma trains 5 to 6 times a week.  However since the airing of the show she has gone almost completely deaf.   So she now works on leash so we can communicate better.  She is almost 12 years old and is still eager to work. 

That is dedication  - both on her part and yours! 
This was a fascinating case for Zuma. I’m sure it brought more attention to the skills of this special type of detection dog. Can you share another case that might interest young readers? 

        Zuma and I were able to travel to Canada.  She was asked to search a battlefield for buried soldiers.  At Grande Pre, she showed a group of students how Historical Human Remains can be discovered from the 1700's without digging.  We used oral and written history to determine a search area to work.   It was all about reading special old maps,  to determine were the roads were and signage.  The distance from the sign and along the older roadway were determined and that is where she searched.   I love history and we were able to further make it historic by searching for these American soldiers in Canada on Memorial Day.  It was a very memorable and special search for us. 

Thank you, Donna and Zuma, for your dedication and amazing skills. It’s fascinating to follow your work. 

You can learn more about these special detection dogs at Institute for Canine Forensics and read more about Zuma and Jax in SNIFFER DOGS (HMH)   - now in paperback at your local bookstore. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Visit to The Bennington Free Library

Authors love to visit book shops. That's a given. But we also love visiting libraries. In fact, nonfiction authors LIVE in libraries. We are always visiting libraries for our research. That said, I thought I'd share some fun library visits with you, my readers! These libraries are unique and special for many different reasons. The first one I am highlighting is the Bennington Free Library in the lovely town of Bennington, Vermont.

I kew this was going to be a special place as soon as I approached the door. 

A library cat! YAY! I couldn't wait to enter and say hello to Pete! 

Pete was pretty busy making the rounds through the library while I was there doing some research, so I didn't disturb him. 

I did spend some time chatting with the librarian at the desk in the children's room. WOW! What a great space with a great collection, including a fantastic STEM display and activities. 

Check back as I post other wonderful library visits from around the country! 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Patterns in Nature - An Interview with Sarah Campbell

Sarah, your book, Growing Patterns,  is beautiful and also informative. Can you start off by explaining what are Fibonacci numbers?

Thank you, Nancy. The Fibonacci sequence is a simple number pattern that starts with 1 and 1. To get the next number in the sequence, you add the first two numbers together. So, the third number in the sequence is 1 plus 1, which equals 2. The next number is 1 plus 2, which equals 3. Then, 2 plus 3, which equals 5. The numbers keep going higher and higher, always following the same pattern. So, the first 12 Fibonacci numbers are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, and 144.

What made you decide to tackle this topic in a picture book for young readers? 

As soon as my first book, Wolfsnail, was published by Boyds Mills Press in 2008, I started casting about for the next project. Initially, I thought I might write about another small animal, but the nonfiction market is already saturated with books about the animals I was considering – a butterfly, a turtle, a gecko. I knew, however, that I wanted my next book to feature the same upclose, macro photography I used to illustrate Woflsnail. When I was talking through that idea with an editor at an SCBWI conference, I said, “Maybe I could do something on patterns in nature.” Coincidently, I had recently finished reading a novel that featured Fibonacci numbers in the plot. Intrigued by something one of the characters said about the numbers being found in nature, I did some research. When some of the first examples I read about were sunflowers and pinecones, I knew I had hit upon an idea I could photograph.
     There was a little hesitation at Boyds Mills initially about whether Fibonacci numbers, which are typically taught in middle school, were appropriate in a picture book for elementary school readers. However, the concept of patterns is central to the early elementary curriculum, including “growing patterns,” which, after I read the term in a math curriculum document, became my title.

The photographs are striking. What challenges did you face in providing the images for this title? 

One of the constraints I set for myself when I started writing nonfiction for kids was that I needed to be able to photograph my subjects locally. I had three small boys at the time and no time or money for traveling. All the flower images were taken in my neighborhood – some in my backyard. The hardest to get was the nautilus shell but my aunt who is a stained glass artist in South Carolina knew of a source for good shells and she sent one to me by post.
     The biggest challenge in making the images was figuring out how to create a visual narrative. Each image is essentially a straight-on photograph of a natural object: flower, pinecone, pineapple, shell. In contrast to the images for Wolfsnail, which were macro shots of a snail hunting for food, these Growing Patterns images did not show action. I solved this problem by using a page design that showed the same “growing” progression as the Fibonacci numbers have in the pattern. On the first page, there is one tiny photograph of a single sprouting seed. Subsequent pages show proportionately larger images with flowers that have the number of petals equal to Fibonacci numbers.

How can teachers use this book in their classroom?

My favorite way for teachers to use the book in their classrooms is a multi-disciplinary project called The Fibonacci Folding Book. The teacher uses Growing Patterns to introduce Fibonacci numbers and then the students make, write, illustrate, and share their own nature-themed books. An online video tutorial, including all the steps, connections to national standards, and student examples, is available in the FOR TEACHERS section of my website. More examples are available on my blog.
     Teachers can also ask students to suggest two starting numbers other than 1 to create their own growing pattern. I sometimes do this with students during school visits. We use personal white boards to do the addition required to find each subsequent number in the sequence.

 I see that your recent title Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature covers another great STEM theme. What is the story behind that book?

Mysterious Patterns came about because smart librarians suggested it. They had Growing Patterns in their collections and thought fractals needed a book, too.
When I began the research and saw the equation for the Mandelbrot set, a fairly famous fractal, I nearly gave up. It looks like this:

     My publisher was also (understandably) nervous about whether it was right for the elementary market. More research led to my decision to use a compare/contrast structure to write the book. Fractals at their most basic are shapes. They are different from the geometric shapes (cones, cylinders and spheres) students learn in elementary school, but the fact that kids learn about these shapes in early grades meant to me that they could be introduced to fractals, a totally different kind of shape.

What are you working on now? 

I am working on a book about infinty. Figuring out the photographs for this one has been a huge challenge, but I’m in a good place with them now. I can’t wait to share!

Thank you, Sarah! 

If you enjoy Sarah's book, take a peek at Joyce Sidman's SWIRL BY SWIRL: Spirals in Nature. It is the perfect companion title! 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

SNIFFER DOGS: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World - NOW IN PAPERBACK!


 I am so very happy that SNIFFER DOGS is now available in paperback for the affordable price of $7.99, meaning that many more readers will be able to read about the amazing dogs I met writing this book. 
    Anyone who has ever spent time with a dog knows that dogs love sniffing!
    They sniff out hidden food, dirty socks, and the visitor who comes to the door.  But some dogs work with police officers, soldiers and even scientists to put their “sniffers” to work.  Sniffer dogs make use of the amazing biology behind their noses to protect people from bombs, catch criminals smuggling drugs, or help researchers locate a hard to find snail in a forest.
     A dog’s nose is so sensitive that if a human could see as well as a dog could smell, we would be able to see the small letters on an eye chart from four (four!) miles away.  Is it any wonder then that dogs can be trained to find missing people in piles of rubble or a certain flower blooming amongst hundreds or thousands of other smells?
   In Sniffer Dogs you will meet many dogs and their handlers and learn all about their jobs. Some of these dogs are raised from birth to detect blood sugar levels in their owners.  Others are rescued from animal shelters and their boisterous personalities help make them excellent sniffer dogs. Featuring a balance between science and social science,Sniffer Dogs will appeal to dog lovers and science lovers alike.
“An exemplary presentation of information in a lively, engaging way—readers will be left feeling awe for their canine companions and enthusiasm for their abilities.”  *Kirkus – starred review
“Superb coverage of the canine contribution to rescue and safety in both text and illustration, Castaldo’s book presents both the dogs and their trainers and handlers in roles involving world peril and individual handicap.” VOYA Magazine
“A well-organized, thoughtfully written title that celebrates the achievements of these great dogs.” – School Library Journal
“This fascinating account will leave young readers feeling wonder and gratitude for the gifts of the canine set.” Wall Street Journal
“The adventurous element of search and rescue and military duty adds an edge to draw readers unnoticed by (or unwilling to be caught with) mere cute puppies.” – Bulletin
“Castaldo’s excellent research and lively writing along with great dog photos make this a book kids will love, and they won’t even suspect they are learning.” San Francisco Book Review
“This is a perfectly executed nonfiction book, from its appealing subject right down to its useful appendix with bibliography of books and articles, listings of web sites, places to visit, “Ways to Get Involved,” and a useful glossary. For serious dog fanciers, research report writers, and almost any school or public library, Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World is definitely “Best in Show.” BooksForKidsBlog
“Finally, a title that combines all of these aspects—hook, subject, relatable elements, and design—is Nancy Castaldo’s Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World (HMH, 2014). School Library Journal  – Selecting and Promoting Nonfiction in Your Library 
Lists and Awards
**National Science Teachers Association 2015 Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 
  • SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for NY
  • Maine State Library Cream of the Crop List
  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year 2015
  • NYC Reads 365 – 5th grade list
  • Kirkus star

Friday, July 7, 2017

Science is not an ending. It is a beginning.

I have been writing about our natural world for decades and for the most part my books have been far from controversial. That is until recently. I first wrote about climate change in my 2008 title, KEEPING OUR EARTH GREEN.  I described real-life citizen science experiences that offered proof of a warming planet. And I included activities that could help slow it down. It is hard to believe that I wrote that book ten years ago and scientists are still having their results questioned. As our ice melts in the Arctic and now the Antarctic, and we have even seen our first climate refugees leaving their island homes, our country is debating whether climate change is a hoax.

My 2016 book, THE STORY OF SEEDS, focused on the seed crisis our planet if facing, partly due to  climate change. I discussed genetically modified crops and their impact on the environment. I introduced readers to visionaries, like Dr. Cary Fowler, who are working across the globe to protect our food source.

My 2017 book, BEASTLY BRAINS, brings to light the cognitive abilities of animals, including corvids, elephants, primates, dolphins, dogs, and bees. I presented scientific studies that point to cognitive evolution and nudged my readers to think about the rights of animals that exhibit empathy and self-awareness.

All of these books talk about science. Science isn't something we need to believe in. It isn't a philosophy or a religion. It is a blending of explorative thinking and curiosity that helps us discover the world around us. For those of us who believe in a higher power, it is what helps us revel in what was created for us. Science is not an ending. It is a beginning. It can provide us with the technology to keep our houses cool in the summer, alert us to dangerous storms, help transport us, and help us live longer. There are times when science has the ability to go further than we might want it to and then we have to introduce ethics. But science has no agenda. It is simply there to be understood and explored.

 I watched a video today of two congressman debating climate change and calling for a debate. As this continues the world keeps spinning and warming. I'm not sure what our Earth's future will hold for us, but it is imperative that we provide our students with critical thinking opportunities and strong science programs so that they might be able to lead us in a world that might not be as hospitable to humans in the future.