Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Researching STEM Kidlit -- Welcome Guest Blogger Heather Montgomery

STORY STRONG: Real Research

“Stop! Don’t do it!” I shout.
Head down into the wind, I race along the edge of the interstate. A turtle is lumbering up and out of the grass towards the pavement. A tractor trailer is barreling towards us.
Spooked, he moves away from me and towards the road.

There’s nothing to do but grab him. A SNAPPER. No way I’m getting my hands near that mouth. The only other option is his tail — a tail that looks like that of a stegosaurus. Can he whack me with that? No time to waste. I just grab it.  
Oomph. He’s heavy. I waddle across the grass and high-step over the guard rail. 
At the edge of the woods I set him down as gently as I can, only to watch him start back up towards the road. 
 “I’m trying to save your life,” I growl.
His tail pop-pop-pops as I heft him again and before I can spend any time wondering if that’s like our knuckles popping, his neck is craning and his jaws are headed toward my leg. 
Snap. SNAP.
The thought of hours in the emergency room with a snapping turtle clamped to my calf have me setting him right back down again.
“Hey! I’m trying to save your life here!”
Between the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of cars, there’s a trickling sound. A creek! If I can get just him down there, maybe he will stay there. 
I try using a stick to convince him to move. Snap! Bye-bye stick. Finally I stretch my hand out as far as I can, grab the tail and up he goes again. His pink paws swim through the air, claws reaching for my flesh. I can’t stop and think about the danger; I have to just move.
Stepping around the briars and poison ivy—all while trying to keep his jaws pointed away from my knees—I wade into the weeds. He has the audacity to hiss at me. I spot a gap in the old chain link fence below us and head for it. It is getting steep—and tangle-y.
I stumble. 
The turtle tumbles in front of me. Bump, bop, bounce. 
A concrete ledge. Coming too fast.
He summersaults right over it.
I grab a giant pine. Wedge my fingers in deep furrows of bark. Wrench my shoulder as I come to a halt.
My eyes drop down, down, down to the bottom of a 30-foot wall. My hands are empty. My legs are shaking. 
At the bottom, a shallow stream gurgles over a jumble of rocks. Through the leafy trees I can’t see the turtle but I can see enough rocks to know there’s no way he could have made it.  
That’s research. Real research that I conducted as I was writing Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill.

That snapping turtle story has emotional power,but, for me, an emotional narrative isn’t enough, so I dig deeper. Research also takes me into books, onto the Internet, and seeking out experts. 
Research turned up these facts:
·     The common snapping turtles’ neck is so long and flexible they were given the scientific name serpentina= snake-like. 
·     This turtle’s jaws can clamp down with 656 Newtons of force.[i]
·     Sometimes a snapping turtle farts when it is picked up.[ii]
·     If you pick up a turtle up by the tail you can dislocate its backbone. Pop, pop, pop.
·     To move a snapping turtle safely, slide it onto a shovel or car mat.[iii]
·     Most snapping turtles hit by cars are pregnant females.
·     A mother snapper can have 30 eggs inside her body.[iv]
Integrating phenomenal facts into real research experiences can bring power to your writing. How would you use those facts make the story stronger? Try it. Don’t be shy, copy and paste the words above, then start revising it. Feel free to fictionalize. Do whatever you need. Make it story strong. 
Curious to see how I used those facts? Visit and click on “The Chapter that Didn’t Make It.”

[i]Mancini, Mark. “10 Biting Facts about Snapping Turtles.” Mental Floss, 23 May 2018,
[ii]Ernst, Carl H., and Jeffrey E. Lovich. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2009.
[iii]“Turtle in the Road - What Should I Do?” Turtle Rescue League, Accessed 17 July 2017.
[iv]Montgomery, Heather L., and David Laurencio. “Auburn University Museum of Natural History.” 1 Apr. 2016. Collections Manager, Tetrapods, Auburn University Museum of Natural History

Learn more about Heather Montgomery and her books at


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1 comment:

  1. Wow, I was sucked right in, Heather! Great example of powerful, immersive, true writing.


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