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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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Did You Wear Lipstick? : Sylvia Earle, Books, and the Ocean

My daughter, an artist, just completed a piece inspired by Sylvia Earle's groundbreaking ocean research and the gender bias she received upon her return from below the sea.

Outside of the box
Inside the box 

Sylvia Earle lead the first team of woman aquanauts in 1970."I took pleasure in turning questions such as 'Did you wear lipstick? Did you use a hairdryer?' into a discourse on the importance of the ocean as our primary source of oxygen," said Sylvia in an essay for the National Journal of Literature and Discussion

Young readers can learn more about Sylvia Earle's ocean exploration in Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola

Sylvia Earle is not the only female ocean explorer. There are many others to inspire young readers. 

Check out these two books  -- Shark Lady by Jess Keating and Solving the Puzzle Under The Sea by Robert Burleigh

Friday, June 16, 2017

Happy World Sea Turtle Day

Last year I spent time with sea turtles in the Galapagos, Florida Keyes, and Australia. What a treat!

One of the most amazing places I visited was the
Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys. This nonprofit organization rescues turtles that suffer from impactions, caused from eating things like balloons, boat strikes, and illnesses. I was so impressed with this organization that I donated a portion of my Authors for Earth Day April school visit proceeds to The Turtle Hospital to further their efforts.

Even though there are conservationists, veterinarians, marine biologists, and volunteers working at this place and others on behalf of the world's sea turtles, they are still under threat.

One major threat is gill net fishing. The long, near-invisible nets used with this method of fishing threaten many marine animals. They are used to catch swordfish, but they also trap whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. These creatures become by-catch and most often die without being released.

Proposed regulations would ban these nets for a period of up to two years, but the current administration is tossing out these regulations. That marks a serious blow for sea turtles and other marine life.

On this World Sea Turtle Day let's do something to help protect sea turtles around the world. Donate to sea turtle conservation, contact your officials, or learn about their species and plight.

Here are three favorite sea turtle reads to inform and enjoy on this World Sea Turtle Day!

Follow the Moon book and song by Sarah Weeks

Mission: Sea Turtle Rescue by Karen Romano Young & Daniel Raven-Ellison

Sea Turtle Scientist by Stephen R. Swinburne


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Book Shopping - Over and Under, Up and Down, Above and Below

I had a great day in New York City yesterday meeting with kid lit publishing folks and visiting one of my favorite bookstores right next to Bryant Park. I came home and couldn't wait to share some of the books I found! 

If you're a fan of Kate Messner's Over and Under books (I know you are!), then check out these other two books that also give a look at worlds we don't often see in the natural world. 

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain and illustrated by Yuval Zommer is designed as fold-out concertina book and takes us below street level to the very core of the Earth! The art is wonderful and readers will joyfully explore this like an I Spy title! It's perfect for rock-collecting future geologists. 

Above and Below by Hanako Clulow and Patricia Hegarty is a lift-the-flap title that allows readers to explore different natural habitats. Lovely illustrations and great information! 

Both of these books are English imports, which explains why I haven't seen them before. That is the advantage of shopping IN PERSON. You might find a treasure you didn't even know existed! 

All of these titles inspire readers to think about life outside of their own world and what they are accustomed to seeing everyday. They can be used in the environmental ed classroom as well as in traditional settings to encourage observation. 

As well as terrific book shopping, this store also has an incredible selection of Japanese products. I left with a new Midori journal to use to record my own observations. 
(Ask any writer and they'll tell you that you can never have too many journals, pens, or pencils!) 

Happy shopping! 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Shopping -- Food, Seeds, and Biodiversity

It's spring! Not only am I in the garden, I'm shopping! And I just had to include some of my latest seedy finds with you!

First stop  -- a local Hudson Valley indie bookshop to find Diana's White House Garden by Elisa Carbone. Fans of Michelle Obama's garden will enjoy this historical look at another White House garden. A perfect pairing for a classroom read with book about seeds and gardening. It's the perfect read for students working in their school garden!

Next stop is for seeds  -- and some of my favorites are from the Hudson Valley Seed Company! (You'll find them listed and photographed in THE STORY OF SEEDS! ) All these seeds have a story behind them. You'll love their beautifully designed packets and the heirloom varieties for your garden.

I might just pick up a packet of Polar Bear Zinnias this year!

And to finish out the week, I took part in some great STEM panels at @nerdCampNJ and met Jennifer Vogel Bass. I fell in love with her two board books - Edible Numbers and Edible Colors! I love them so much - tiny books about biodiversity and heirlooms! I swapped her a copy of THE STORY OF SEEDS for these two treasures!

So there you have it -- a book about a historical garden, a great seed company, and a look at some wonderful heirlooms!   I hope you love these all as much as I do!   Seed on!


Monday, May 15, 2017

Book Shopping - Our History with Dogs

As you know, I love dogs, so I was extremely happy to find these two titles waiting on the bookshelves in my local indie! Hudson Talbott and Kay Frydenborg have written titles about our long history with our fuzzy friends. They are the perfect pair for a young reader and an older sibling or parent. 

I had the pleasure of speaking with Hudson and Kay about their books. 

 Dogs truly are our best friends. Your book delves into the history of our strong relationship with our fuzzy friends. What was the most surprising thing you discovered about our history with dogs while crafting your book?

Hudson:  Hard to say which is the MOST surprising thing as there are so many!  
The first that comes to mind is that the alliance is so ancient - primordial really. Evidence has been found that dates at least 30,000 years. That's about 25,000 years more than the connection to cats. There is even evidence that suggests much earlier - to contact between homonids(pre-humans) and wolf ancestors. It's conceivable that the two species evolved in tandem to some degree. Humans obviously affected dogs' evolution but it's possible that they affected ours too.

Kay:   Thanks so much for asking, Nancy! There were so many surprising things I learned while researching A Dog in the Cave. The first thing was how far back our intimate relationship with dogs (beginning with wolves) goes—more than 30,000 years, scientists now believe! That's a lot longer than was believed until just a few years ago. Another amazing thing involved the genetics of our coevolution with dogs.For example, areas of our own brains involved with scent recognition actually shrank because our dog friends kind of “took over” some of that function; at the same time, our human brains became even better able to reason and plan actions that benefited both  our dogs and ourselves, and dogs’ cerebral cortexes shrank somewhat because those “executive functions” were taken over to a greater extent, by humans. 
The other thing that I loved most about what I learned was more of a narrative thing. I was captivated by the image of our prehistoric ancestors and how they began living with another wild predator with whom they might just as easily have killed, or who may have equally easily have killed them. I learned that our ancient human ancestors were not, in important ways, so different from us. To me, the fact that a large dog may have walked with a young boy through Chauvet Cave in France really set my imagination on fire.

Do you have a favorite dog in your life? 

Hudson: I have a cat who behaves like a dog to humor me. He seems to know that I'm really a dog person and would have them if I didn't travel so much. Cats love humans to but, being cats,they know how to make do if their human isn't around. Dogs just can't be without their human for long - the price of being "hard-wired" into our species, perhaps. 

Kay: I have had dogs in my life for my whole life, and can't imagine living without them. My current favorite dog is Saada, who is a mostly Rhodesian Ridgeback we adopted from the Ridgeback rescue several years ago. She is the sweetest, funniest dog ever, a beautiful brindle color, and weighs a little over 100 pounds. I also am fond of our other dog, Junie, who is a smallish pit bull mix that our son rescued off the mean streets of Los Angeles and airlifted to us here in Pennsylvania when she was just a puppy. She has definitely kept us on our toes over the years since; even though she and Saada had some rocky times together, they are now the best of friends.

Thank you both for sharing your research and your dog tales with us! 

Find A Dog In The Cave and From Wolf to Woof at your local bookstore!