Thursday, December 19, 2013

More Connections

Back in March I wrote a review of Kelly Milner Hall's well-researched, informative In Search of Sasquatch.

Well, I came across a book that would be an excellent middle grade fictional companion - The Abominables by the late Eva Ibbotson.

What a great way to tie in a wonderful read with science!   Ibbotson's book transports five abominable snowmen to a stately home in England.  These gentle Yetis have Mt. Helen's size personalities that kids will love!

A perfect pairing for gift giving or classrooms!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Connections for the Classroom

I just finished reading Melissa Stewart's great blog post on ways that authors can help educators and thought I'd take a moment to follow her advice and provide some connections for two of my books.

Keeping Our Earth Green provides readers with over 100 hands-on ways to help save the Earth. Readers will discover facts about pollution, global warming, biofuels, and much more. Try experiments at home or in a classroom. Read about the cool things being done to help our planet. Discover Earth Heroes – real people who have made a difference. Take action! A perfect pairing with this book is Loree Griffen Burns' Citizen Science.

North America boasts a surprising number of rainforests, including El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, Olympic National Forest in Washington State, Chugah and Tonga National Forests in Alaska, and the forests in Hawaii. Rainforests: An Activity Guide takes kids through the common layers of the rainforest, from the forest floor to above the enclosed canopy, and introduces them to plants, animals, and people around the world, including those from the temperate rainforests of North America to the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America.  Pair it with Melissa Stewart's No Monkeys, No Chocolate


Another resource to pair with these books is Eric Carle's "Slowly, Slowly,"Said the Sloth. Watch Eric Carle speak about his inspiration for writing this book. 

A great chapter book to accompany these titles is Jean Craighead George's One Day in the Tropical Rain Forest. This is a perfect title for grades 2-5.  

Looking for an activity for your classroom?  There are plenty of activities in Rainforests, but here is another for you to try:

Henri Rousseau Green Rainforest Watercolor Paintings
Procedure:  Introduce students to the art of Henri Rousseau.  Show artwork and if time permits read The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau or Welcome to the Greenhouse by Jane Yolen.  Draw attention to the different layers of rainforest plants in the paintings and the different leaf shapes.  Look at photos of tropical rain forests.  Ask students to think about the trees outside and how many different leaf shapes they see.

Instruct students to begin drawing different shapes of leaves on their watercolor paper lightly with pencil. Add spikes, rounded leaves, etc.  Draw plants at different levels, filling the entire paper. 

Paint the leaves using as many different shades of green possible.  Instruct students on how to mix colors and make different shades of green.

Limit the use of watercolor to yellow, blue, green – show the color wheel and discuss how many different colors of green you can obtain from mixing colors.

Discuss why a brightly colored parrot or orchid flower would stand out in a rainforest.  Why is that an advantage? Add one or two small pieces of brightly colored tissue paper to represent a parrot or flower among all the rainforest green. 

Materials: pencils, watercolor paper, green, yellow, blue watercolors. Water and brushes.

Bright colored tissue paper, glue stick

Monday, December 9, 2013

Naturally Speaking: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi A...

Naturally Speaking: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi A...: Raccoons, gators, rattlesnakes, and the Sugar Man  -- what more could you want in a Texas swamp?  Maybe a greedy developer and some cr...

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

Raccoons, gators, rattlesnakes, and the Sugar Man  -- what more could you want in a Texas swamp?  Maybe a greedy developer and some crazy, wild hogs?  Got them.  Maybe a cafe serving up the sweetest sugar pies around? Got it!  And maybe a kid who just wants to keep the story, the swamp and the cafe alive? Got it!

Kathi Appelt has created a rip-roaring, glorious eco-tale reminiscent of a true American folktale.  The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is swampalicious! 

The theme of ecologist/conservationists/preservationist vs. developer is pretty common, but Appelt's story is fresh and woven as intricately as the swamp ecosystem itself. 

Teachers can use this along with a lesson on wetlands. Check out the EPA's Wetlands Reading List for Pre-K through Grade 12. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nonfiction Constellations

Marc Aronson's May 14th article in School Library Journal describes the idea of constellations in relation to Common Core standards.  No, he doesn't mean we'll all be focusing our attention on the starry skies, but rather connecting excerpts, passages and writings as if shining stars in the sky to form complete pictures for students.

It reminds of the whole language approach that buzzed around years ago.  The thought of connecting art, literature and other subjects together has always resonated with me.  His examples of passages on the Dust Bowl combined with the investigation of Dorothea Lange's famous photo, Migrant Mother, would appeal to any nonfiction author who approaches research in a very similar manner.   Perhaps Aronson's constellations will inspire teachers to look at nonfiction in a fresh way.  Exciting stuff!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Real or Imagined?

I just finished reading Kelly Milner Hall's In Search of Sasquatch.  I must confess, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about unknown, mythic creatures like Bigfoot.  The only aliens I spend time thinking about are on The Neighbors.  And I've never desired to go to Scotland to search for the Loch Ness Monster.  That said, Kelly's book was fascinating.  Who knew there was such a thing as cryptozoology to study creatures not recognized by traditional science?  The more I read, the more intrigued I became.  I started to remember my fascination with giant squids when I worked on my book Oceans.  At one point they also fell under the cryptid category.  Now we know they are real.  Perhaps some day we'll know Sasquatch is also real.

In Search of Sasquatch is well-researched, as are all of Hall's nonfiction tittles.  Readers are not guaranteed to become believers in the Sasquatch theory, but they certainly will look at the "myth" with the eyes of a scientist in the future.  Well presented and a great book for discussion!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sing Out!

Have you heard Sean Lennon's new song about fracking?  He's certainly following a great tradition of protest and environmental songwriters!  Think of all those singers, beginning with Woody Guthrie, who focused their pipes on the good Earth!  I grew up with Pete Seeger's Clearwater sailing on the Hudson and his songs still ring out!  Take a listen to Garbage.    My Earth Day playlist also includes his song My Dirty Stream. Kudos to Sean Lennon for joining in!

Hey, want to read more about Woody Guthrie?  Read Elizabeth Partridge's book, This Land Was Made For You And Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Great Famine Spud Returns!

With St. Patrick's Day just a week away I thought this an interesting time to share some news I learned about the Lumper.  Hmmm, it's not ringing a bell?  Well, the Irish Lumper was the potato species behind the Great Hunger.  And the Lumper is in the news again! Thankfully, the news is not dreadful.  On the contrary, the Lumper is making a comeback after 170 years!

The Irish Lumper was known for it nutritional value.  It was introduced to Ireland in the early 19th century, and, as you all know, met a dire fate with the onset of the blight that wiped out the Lumpers in the 1840s.  A farmer decided to try to bring back the Lumper five years ago.  Last summer Michael McKillop of Glens of Antrim Potatoes took the Lumper to the Delicious Ireland consumer show and was amazed by the positive reception it recieved.

The Irish Famine was one of the worst environmental/agricultural disasters in history.  Who could imagine that the Lumper would ever be found on tables again?

Read more about the Iris Famine in Susan Campbell Bartoletti's book, Black Potatoes.  And keep an eye out for the Lumper  -- you might find it at a grocery store soon.

Friday, January 25, 2013

NCTE Orbis Pictus Awards

It's that time again.  The NCTE has announced the Orbis Pictus Awards for outstanding nonfiction!  I am thrilled to see some writing friends on the list as well as some books edited by some very talented nonfiction editors!  The books on the list are published by a variety of publishers, including Houghton Mifflin, Scholastic, Calkins Creek, Holt, and Clarion. The topics cover a wide spectrum - everything from outer space to civil rights to frogs to magicians and everything in between!

Congratulations to all the authors, illustrators and editors who worked to bring these fascinating subjects to children!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Honoring Our Rivers

Calling all Oregon students!  

I just learned of a fantastic program for Oregon students --- K through college!  It's an opportunity to submit work (both writing and art) to a student anthology called, Honoring Our Rivers.    I wrote about a similar program that was sponsored by the Columbia Riverkeeper in my book, River Wild.  It was an annual poetry contest called, Love of a River.  And there is another one called River of Words on the theme of watersheds.

Rivers are so inspiring.  I love hearing of programs that encourage kids to look at their local waterways, become inspired and then…..CREATE!

I can't wait to see the Honoring Our Rivers Anthology!  I know it will be terrific!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Naturally Speaking with Darcy Pattison, Author of WISDOM

Darcy Pattison's WISDOM, tells the story of the world's oldest wild bird.  Banded over 60 years ago, Wisdom's story is exceptional.  And she's still making news!  It has been discovered that she's about to become a mother AGAIN!  Pattison is also making news these days.  Her picture book about Wisdom was just honored by Writer's Digest Books as the winner of their 20th Annual Self-Published Book Awards!

I had a chance to ask Darcy about her award winning picture book.

The story of Wisdom is fascinating.  Who knew that a bird could live so long?  What inspired you to write about her?

After the publication of PRAIRIE STORMS, I knew I wanted to write more nature book. After the Japanese tsunami, I searched through news reports for something that might make an interesting story. Taking Kirby Larson's example of TWO BOBBIES, about a cat and dog after Hurricane Katrina, I instantly recognized the possibilities in Wisdom's story.

 What were the challenges you faced in bringing her story to life?  

In Elizabeth Bird's review on Fuse#8/SLJ blog, she said, "  True to life incredible journeys of wild animals are difficult to tell, though. If the animal is truly wild then how do you extrapolate its life without relying on fantasy and conjecture? Wisdom: The Midway Albatross offers at least one solution to that question. Add history to facts to the glorious innovation of banding wild animals and you have yourself a bird bio that’s easy to distinguish from the flock."

 She captured exactly the problem: how do you really know what a bird's life is like? In this case, I researched the Pacific Ocean for the last sixty years. The setting--Wisdom's environment--was the context for much of what could be extrapolated about her life. And yes, the fact that she has been continuously banded since 1956 was key to making the story work. It was also cool to connect with Chandler Robbins, who originally banded her. On the cover, he is quoted: "On Dec. 10, 1956, early in my first visit to Midway, I banded 99 incubating laysan Albatrosses in the 'downtown' area of Sand Island, Midway. Wisdom (band number 587-51945) is still alive, healthy, and incubating again in December 2011. While I have grown old and gray and get around only with the use of a cane, Wisdom still looks and acts just the same as on the day i banded her. . . remarkable true story. . . beautifully illustrated in color." --Chandler S. Robbins Sc.D. Senior Scientist (Retired), USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.

 Scientists like Robbins and Pete Leary, wildlife biologist on Midway and extraordinary photographer, made it easy to verify information and get the details of the story right.

 Congratulations on Wisdom’s Writer’s Digest Award!  Self publishing is not an easy way to bring a book to print.  What made you decide on that path for this book?  

I took the project to various publisher and each had a reason why it wouldn't work. But I believed in the story. The final puzzle piece was when Kitty Harvill agreed to illustrate the book. She is an amazing wildlife artist and, as it happens, we share a birthday. We had long wanted to do a book together. I knew that I wouldn't do a self-published book unless it was top-quality and when she said, yes, that quality became possible.

 The process of self-publishing a picture book, though, came about because of the book, THE HELP. To publicize that book, they created a children's story contest and I won! The grand prize was illustrations of the story. That meant, I had an instant book. 11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph is the story of a girl whose father is sent overseas on assignment for a year. During that year, she decides that it is NOT the family photo album and she won't let any family photos turn out good that year. The book hasn't sold very well, but with the professional illustrations that I had won, it made a great book--and taught me the process of putting out a book. So, in some ways, WISDOM THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS, owes its life to that contest, too.

  You’ve written on other natural subjects, including deserts.  What’s next for your readers?

I'm looking for great nature stories now!

Many thanks to Darcy Pattison!  
WISDOM is a great book to add to a classroom library.  Check out Darcy's site for teacher resources, coloring pages to link to and more.

Good News and Bad News ---For Wolves

There was good news and bad news recently for our country's gray wolf population, as you see below. While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser...