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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Elephants, Lions, and ....trophies. Oh my!

Here are the facts.

There were over 3 million African elephants in 1930. Today that has decreased to just about 3,000 due to poaching and habitat loss.

Elephants, the symbol of the GOP,  are the largest land animal on the planet and can live up to 70 years. They are highly intelligent and, like us, self-aware. That means that when they look at themselves in a mirror they know they are seeing themselves. This is rare among wildlife. Even our beloved dogs are not self-aware. They have even been shown to solve problems and create tools

      You can read more about their cognition in my BEASTLY BRAINS: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel.

      In addition to their strong cognitive abilities, elephants live in highly organized social structures. They take care of their young and grieve the deaths of those around them.

      These fascinating creatures are endangered and at tremendous risk from habitat loss and poaching.

      China and the UK have banned ivory and trophies brought into their countries. The United States had also banned bringing in trophies, but now that is being reversed.

      This week Safari Club International announced that this ban would be changed to allow trophies in the US on a case by case basis.

Now, let's step back from this for a minute. This important federal policy was not announced by our government, but by a private organization that supports big game trophy hunting. This is concerning. How was the decision made and by whom? What are the guidelines?

Hunting endangered species is illegal in the United States. A hunter who might shoot a deer cannot go hunting for bald eagles or California condors.  Is our government now saying that it is ok for Americans to hunt endangered species in other parts of the world?

There are a lot of ways we can help save endangered species in our country and around the world. One very easy thing that everyone can do is to make your voice heard! Contact Congress by calling 1-800-344-WILD and press "0" to speak to your representative.

Write an editorial. Tweet to your friends and followers.
Speak up and contact the Fish and Wildlife Service!

We can all make a difference and together we can do amazing things.

Here are some other ways:    

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Endangered Species Day -- Get Planning

It's not too early to plan ahead for Endangered Species Day - May 18, 2018. 

This is the 13th annual international celebration of endangered species. It's an ideal day for teachers and community leaders to educate students about the importance of protecting the Earth's biodiversity. 

There are so many ways to engage in the celebration. Here are just a few:

*Plan a school-wide Endangered Species Day fair with exhibits.
*Arrange a special display in the school library or cafeteria.
*Invite a local expert to speak to the school/class.
*Work with a community/environmental group on a habitat restoration project.
*Attend an event at a local zoo, aquarium, botanic garden or other location.

Once a specific activity is planned, your class can register it on the Endangered Species Day website: ( is external)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Award-Winning STEAM Kidlit

Congratulations to all the winners and honorees of the American Library Association book awards. It's always an exciting day when we can celebrate children's literature. 

Here are the award-winning titles that you should add to your STEAM bookshelf: 

*Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers written by Deborah Heiligman and published by Godwin Books/Henry Holt, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group (art, biography) YALSA

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found written by Martin W. Sandler, and published by Candlewick Press  (marine archeology)   YALSA honor

“Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem,” written by Patricia Newman and published by Millbrook Press, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. (conservation, ecology) Sibert Honor

Wolf in the Snow,” illustrated and written by Matthew Cordell, and published by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. (wildlife, wolves)

“Grand Canyon,” written and illustrated by Jason Chin and published by Roaring Brook Press, a Neal Porter Book. (environment) Sibert Honor, Caldecott Honor

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I HEART Sharks!

I happen to like sharks. Sorry, President Trump, I don't believe they should all die. And for that reason, I'd like to share a new, favorite book about sharks with you all -- SMART ABOUT SHARKS, by Owen Davey.

Not only does this book have a fun, retro-styled cover, it is wonderful to hold. It's cloth over cardboard, like many vintage titles. That's where the old-style nonfiction style ends.

Turn the pages and you'll see what I mean.

The text is kid-friendly, fun, and informative -- exactly what we love in current nonfiction titles. 

Check out this page all about shark teeth. It's so much fun that I wish I had written it myself.

Most of us know how important sharks are to our ocean ecosystem. This book reiterates that and goes above and beyond telling us how amazing they are as well.

Perhaps we need to get a copy off to the White House?

To donate on behalf of shark conservation: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Friday, January 12, 2018

Sniffer Dog Super Powers

One of the most interesting stories I wrote for SNIFFER DOGS is the story of Zuma and Jax. Both are trained forensic sniffer dogs. These dogs sniff out OLD BONES. They can find ancient Native American burial sites, missing cemetery plots, and cremation remains, and know the remains are human. Pretty incredible! 

I watched and wrote about Zuma, a beautiful border collie, locating a small amount of cremation remains -- basically human sand -- in the woods of North Carolina. 

Zuma from Sniffer Dogs (HMH)

If that isn't mind blowing enough check out what Zuma’s teammates are doing in California after the horrific wildfires. 

Imagine having your house burn to the ground with all of your belongings, including the cremation remains of a beloved family member. Just heartbreaking. Well, Zuma's team of forensic sniffer dogs can actually find those treasured remains (cremation ashes) among all of the ashes of everything else in the house that burned. 

These aren't the only detection dogs in the news. Other dogs are searching today for people missing in the California mudslides. 

The skills of sniffer dogs are endless. I am proud of these working canines and their dedicated handlers, and so privileged to have spent time with many of them. 

If you'd like to find out more about sniffer dogs, check out my book and these additional tittles: 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2018 Free Monthly Skype Visits

Would you like a free short Skype visit for your students? If your class has read one or more of my books you are eligible to book a time during one of my monthly  FREE SKYPE VISIT DAYS.

Skype visits enable students to meet an author and ask questions about research and writing -- especially if an in-person visit isn't an option.

There are limited times available for January 19th.

The next available date is the afternoon of February 14th -- following my National Biodiversity Teach In Webinar.

You can also book a visit for March 15th.

Of course, I love to visit schools in person. I'm currently booking spring and fall author visits.

For more information and to contact me please visit my web site .

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Astronaut/Aquanaut - Interview with Jennifer Swanson

 Science rocks! And so do Jennifer Swanson's books. She is the award-winning author of over 30 nonfiction books for kids and a self-professed science geek. 

Her latest book, Astro-naut/Aqua-naut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact, releases today and she's here for our latest interview.

Welcome, Jennifer! 

In a world where nothing seems unexplored, it is exciting to read a book that focuses on two places that remain remote. Tell us about the inspiration for this title. 

This book was developed from a conversation that I had with my National Geographic Kids editor, Shelby Lees. We were talking about astronauts and how they train and then we started talking about how that was probably very different from how a deep sea diver trained. I got to thinking and started researching. To my surprise, I found out that they do a lot of things in common when training. It was a fascinating tidbit of information and one I KNEW would make a great book!

It's fascinating to imagine training for space and ocean exploration. They certainly do have many things in common. What were the things that you found in your research that were the most surprising? 

That astronauts actually train underwater for about three weeks in the Aquarius underwater research station. Which makes total sense! I mean, underwater is the only place on Earth where you are going to get close to the micro gravity conditions in space. This one was shocking and a bit sad, in my opinion, but humans have explored less than 5% of the ocean, but they contain more than 99% of the living space on our planet. It seems that funding for ocean research is considerably less than that for space exploration. While I do think space is amazing, I think the ocean deserves just as much attention.
Finally, I was surprised to learn that Aquarius, the underwater research station is actually very close to where I live in Florida. How cool! One day that will be a fun research road trip!  :)

If you had the chance to explore one of these locations would you choose space or ocean and why? 

The ocean! I have had a deep love the ocean since I was very young. One of my favorite shows to watch as a kid was "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau".  I desperately wanted to be an oceanographer and deep sea diver. Unfortunately, I have an issue with my ears that prevents me from deep diving, but I still have an abiding love of the ocean. That was only enhanced when I went to the U.S. Naval Academy for college, where I got to learn all about oceanography, ship design, and all of the oceanic research the U.S. Navy does though their naval research lab. Today, I live about 4 miles from the ocean and we go there all the time. It is one of my favorite places to be!

Cousteau's show brought the ocean alive for many of us! Lucky for your readers you took your love of the ocean into another direction. What were the challenges in conducting the research for this title? 

There is TONS of information about space travel, astronauts, and their training, but not much information about how aquanauts are trained, and where they live. The other part that was challenging was when I decided that I wanted to ask real astronauts and aquanauts for quotes. To me, it was very important to include questions that kids might have for these amazing explorers. That said, it took me awhile to track down astronauts who would be willing to speak with me about this. (Their emails are not readily available). I was thrilled to get a few astronauts, but also be able to speak with a couple of NASA engineers who actually worked to design the spacesuits and are also working on figuring out how humans can live in space. On the aquanaut side, I was thrilled to be able to interview Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, about his time spent living 31 days underwater in Aquarius. To me the most fascinating part of the research was talking to the explorers who have actually been to these extreme environments.

I'm sure that must have been a thrill. This is a great STEM title, Jennifer. Please tell teachers how they can use this book in their classroom. 

This book would be a great discussion and debate topic. Sides of the class could be split up into two groups -- one group of astronauts, the other aquanauts.  Students could debate which is a better career choice, which should get more funding, which has benefited the Earth more, etc. There are so many ways this book could be used as a jumping off point to introduce STEM not only in science, but in math and ELA classes as well. And if you need more ideas of ways to use this book, check out my website. Soon there will be a free teacher's guide available for all elementary grades.

What’s next for you, Jennifer Swanson? 

I have two more books from National Geographic Kids releasing this year-- Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System and Abolute Expert Dolphins. In June, I have a narrative nonfiction book out with American Girl/Scholastic about Pearl Harbor featuring the American Girl doll, Nanea. As for writing, I am working on edits for my new engineering book next year with Peachtree Publishers. It's called "Save the Crash Test Dummies" and will be a hilarious history of car safety and engineering. I'm so excited about that one!

That's so exciting! We'll be on the lookout for this book and your upcoming titles. Thank you for this great conversation.