Thursday, December 28, 2017

Naturally Speaking About Butterflies

I visited the Daintree Rainforest in Northern Queensland, Australia in 2016, the oldest rainforest on the planet. What a treat for this author of RAINFORESTS An Activity Guide for Ages 6-9 !  

The Daintree is a tropical rainforest -- the perfect home to many butterflies. Visitors might spot the large, beautiful, green and black  Cairns Birdwing, the Cruiser Butterfly which has orange-yellow wings with a distinct pattern detailing on the edges, two varieties of Swallowtail, and one of my very favorites, the large, electric-blue Ulysses. All are amazing to see in the lush, green wilds of the rainforest. 

There are a few reasons why there are so many different species of butterflies in tropical rainforests. Once reason is that there are so many different micro-habitats, with their own micro-climates to support a variety of plants. There are butterfly species that live in the rainforest canopy, others that live in the sub-canopy, and still others that find their home among the plants in the understory. 

You might not live in the rainforest, but I bet you also have species of butterflies flitting around the plants on your rooftop garden, nearby park, or outside your front door.  

Years ago many people collected butterflies, but we know it is better to watch them fly in the wild and  serve out their role as important pollinators than capturing them for a collection. 

There are some things we can learn from observing butterflies in the wild.  I found a few of these on a sign in the rainforest: 
  1. Trust the future. 
  2. Embrace change.
  3. Put on your brightest color.
  4. Let your beauty show. 

Why not help the butterflies along in 2018 by planting your own butterfly garden. The winter is a perfect time for planning. 

Explore what native species of plants are appropriate for your local butterflies. You'll have to plant some that serve as food for hungry caterpillars and others that provide nectar for adults. You can plant your garden in a community garden, in your backyard, or in flower pots on a deck or balcony.  

Keep a journal where you can record the species that visit your garden. Draw pictures of the different varieties or take photos. It will be fun to look at each year as your garden matures and butterflies find it a perfect place to visit. 

Here are a few butterfly books you'll want to read: 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Chocolate! Three Sweet Books!

What could be sweeter than books about our favorite sweet -- CHOCOLATE? Here are three that delve into the history, natural history, and future of our cherished flavor. 

Did you know that we need monkeys and a host of other rainforest critters in order for trees to produce cocoa pods? 

Did you know that chocolate was once only the food of royalty and was used in religious ceremonies? 

Did you know the first men to climb Mt. Everest buried a candy bar at the summit as an offering to the gods? 

These three titles will help you become a chocolate expert!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Our National Monuments, Our Public Land

President Trump has announced his plans to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments this week.

National Monuments are lands that are protected from development by presidents through the Antiquities Act. This Act is the foundation of American conservation legacy.

Mr. Trump is not the first president to shrink our national lands. President Wilson reduced Mt. Olympus and FDR reduced the Grand Canyon monument at the request of ranchers. However, this act will put Mr. Trump in the record books for giving away the most public land.

As upsetting as this must be for many Americans, myself included, I know that there are many groups who will fight this in court, claiming that only Congress can legally shrink a monument.  And there is still time for the public to voice concerns. If Mr. Trump's action is not prevented this will change the landscape of our country forever.

With all of this in the news this week I thought I'd try to turn a positive look at our public lands and the scientists who work in them by highlighting Mary Kay Carson's book, PARK SCIENTISTS: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America's Own Backyard. This title is part of the well-known Scientists in the Field series published by Houghton Mifflin (my publisher). This well-researched title introduces readers to Yellowstone's grizzly bears, cacti and Gila monsters in Arizona, and fireflies in Tennessee.

Spend some time exploring our public lands -- their beauty, their value, and their protection. 

 Here are a few groups working on protecting our public lands who could use your support:



Monday, December 4, 2017

November - Jam Packed with Work and Fun

WOW, it's December and I realized that I totally missed all my blogging dates for November. So, here is my explanation.
As Regional Advisor for the SCBWI Eastern NY Region, I plan an amazing retreat every year in NOVEMBER. This year was the 10th anniversary! Whaaaat? Those ten years have flown by, so we celebrated with a big birthday bash retreat. It was inspiring. The faculty was amazing -- Hilary Van Dusen, Grace Kendall, Rotem Moscovich, Katherine Jacobs, Kendra Levin, and Jennifer Laughran.  You're jealous, aren't you? Well, if you are a writer, you should be! LOL Don't worry, we'll host another wonderful retreat next year.

Those are all book covers from our retreat attendees! 

Loved hosting this group! Fabulous Faculty!

So, after that wonderful weekend, I drove down to Washington, DC for the Green Earth Book Award celebration. I was so honored to have THE STORY OF SEEDS receive the award for YA Nonfiction! This was truly a highlight of my career. And what made it even more special was the school visit that accompanied the celebration and the talented authors I met, who also received the award for their middle grade titles.

Check out books by Maris Wicks and Mary Knight! 

Lastly, I presented at NCTE -- more writer friends, lots of wonderful teachers, and days filled with inspiration and hope.

Great fun presenting with Sarah Albee and Jennifer Swanson. Thanks to Teresa Bunner for moderating! 

Along the way there were national park visits, rib dinners, blues music, cupcakes, champagne and lots of friends! (Followed by Thanksgiving!)

And now it is DECEMBER! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Get The Lead Out! - Children's Health Month

According to the EPA, drinking water isn't the only way we get lead into our bodies. Lead can also be in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the dust and dirt around our homes.

Children with developing brains "are more susceptible to a host of neurological health effects brought on by lead exposure."

It can also be found in wildlife, such as endangered California condors. Why condors? Well, condors are scavenger birds, just like other vultures. They ingest animals that die naturally or are killed by humans. If an animal was shot and killed, lead will likely be found in the carcass left behind for  scavengers. That lead usually makes its way throughout our environment and into our bodies.

California Condor in treatment for lead poisoning. Photo: Nancy F. Castaldo 

The day before President Obama left office he wrote an order to phase out lead bullets by 2020. That order was overturned on the first day Dept. of Interior Secretary Zinke took office.

As a result of EPA's regulations the amount of lead in our air has decreased by 98% between 1980 and 2014! Let's keep it that way!

October is Children's Health Month. Let's keep our kids healthy. Let's maintain regulations designed to preserve the health of our bodies and environment.

The EPA Lead Page

Get The Lead Out

Find out more about California condors and how you can help in BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction (Houghton Mifflin 2018)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Anita Sanchez Shows Us Another Side of Poison Ivy

"For centuries, poison ivy has bedeviled, inconvenienced, and downright tortured the human race," according to Anita Sanchez. And she's right.  But, the environmental educator and author recognizes its value the way many of us can't imagine. 

  Poison Ivy on the rocky coast of Maine showing off it's autumn colors. @Nancy F. Castaldo 

Anita has authored two fabulous books that will surely give you a new appreciation for this common vine. Can you imagine importing poison ivy for showy European gardens? I couldn't, but it was! The natural history of this vine will amaze you. 

Kids and adults alike will be enchanted by Robin Brickman's illustrations. And they might just learn that although poison ivy might not rank high on our list, there are many creatures that find it mighty tasty!


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue - An Interview with Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley

Hello to Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley, author and photographer of Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. Thank you both for answering some questions today for us about this important new title. 

1.     What inspired you to write this book, Patricia? 

When my niece was in fifth grade, she told me about a persuasive essay she had to write on zoos. The information the teacher gave the class was almost all anti-zoo and as the mother of a zookeeper, I knew she didn’t have all the facts. Granted, not all zoos have high standards, but the scientific inquiry and conservation projects sponsored by AZA-member zoos educate visitors, promote the captive breeding and reintroduction of endangered species into the wild, and bring their sophisticated lab know-how to the field to preserve wildness. Those were the kinds of conservation efforts I wanted to share with young readers.

2.     There are so many zoos working on conservation programs. How did you select the ones that appear in this book? 

The zoo animals and the scientists that appear in Zoo Scientists to the Rescue meet a specific set of criteria. First, they are from zoos willing to cooperate with us as a creative team. Not all zoos are willing to work on outside commercial ventures, and some charge hefty fees to interview their scientists. Others charge steep licensing fees to photograph or write about animals in their collections.

Second, the zoos had to be large enough to employ scientists conducting original research. Many small zoos do not have laboratories and do not have the resources for research.

Third, the animals and the scientists’ work had to match one of the three ways zoos promote conservation:  education, captive breeding and reintroduction, and studying wildlife in its native habitat. These three pieces form the backbone of the structure in Zoo Scientists to the Rescue.

And lastly, we wanted to write about animals that kids could connect to emotionally. In the zoo world, they are called charismatic megafauna.

When we think about all the pieces that had to fall into place to make this book work, we feel like we achieved a minor miracle!

3.     The photographs are engaging and create an intimate look at these species. What challenges did you face, Annie, in taking them for the book? 

The two biggest challenges were time and budget. When you hold a book in your hands, you do not often think about how it went from imagination to creation. Patti and I traveled to all three locations to interview the scientists. In addition, I needed to photograph the animals, labs, breeding facility, and any and all locations and activities that would complement the publication. We have to pay for our travel, hotel, meals, car rentals, etc. and we had to choose a time when we both could go around the dates the zoos/scientists gave to us.

When we visited Colorado, we were caught in a blizzard and didn’t even know if we were going to be able to make it to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo or some of our other planned shoot locations. We literally traveled to the zoo in a blizzard. Lucky for us, the black-footed ferrets were inside the facility and we were able to make our appointment!

I grew up at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. So for me, I was facing extreme self-pressure to be able to document the story of the black rhinos and Dr. Rachel Santymire. I had no idea what kind of access we would have, nor if the weather would cooperate. I allotted for 5 days of shooting and in the end really had 2 days as weather interfered. In order to photograph/film the rhinos, you have to wait for them to be outside. So I stood with my camera observing and documenting the rhinos. They like heat and in the week I was in Chicago the weather went from 80 degrees to 40 degrees overnight and so the rhinos decided to stay inside. Fortunately, Rachel and the entire team were incredible to work with. They were very patient. To get a great, memorable shot you must know behavior of the animal and their character. This comes with time, asking questions, understanding the subject, and the right lighting. Being able to predict your shot helps as well. The trainer helped me photograph Maku by keeping him close with some treats. There is also a lot of waiting. Rhinos mark territory with urine so I found myself waiting to photograph/film until they would relieve themselves. I also had to wait until Maku needed to pooh. Rachel’s chapter is called Feces Saves Species, so I felt the need to capture Maku pooping and his trainer taking samples for Dr Santymire in the lab. You asked me about challenges, I guess none of the documentation part I really consider a personal challenge. I love being in the field, meeting the animals, figuring out how to capture their character and everything about creating an image. I guess another challenge was to shoot both photo/video as we like to create a trailer and other bonus materials to accompany the books we create together.

I travel quite a bit for my work and made sure to visit every zoo I could that had the species from our book. In Australia at the Melbourne Park Zoo they have a phenomenal orangutan exhibit and have huge educational outreach to pressure companies to use only environmentally friendly (aka orangutan friendly) palm oil. A few of the images from my time spent at the Melbourne Zoo made the cut which made me really happy. It is not one zoo making a difference, it is all zoos working together to educate and inspire the often-unknowing public about the environmental issues the animals face.

As Patti wove the scientists’ stories together, I spent my days at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle photographing/filming tigers, lions, penguins, zebras, hippos, and so many other animals. I live about 20 minutes away from the zoo, so by visiting daily, I was able to get to know the animals and their behavior. I talked to many of the keepers to find out when their animals were most active, or when they would be giving public presentations as they always plan those around behavior. Storytelling happens on many levels and being able to complement this book with images to take the reader into the labs, breeding facilities, and so much more is so much fun! Whatever challenges Patti and I faced on the road, they were met with laughter…and that’s why we are such a great team!

4.     Did the two of you research and travel together? If so, can you share any outtakes —  fun, or challenging? 

When we collaborated on Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Annie traveled with the scientists on board the research vessel, the New Horizon. Patti entered the picture after the expedition had returned to dry land. As Patti wrote, Annie clarified aspects of the expedition during the writing process, and of course, worked with the editorial team in choosing the best photos to tell our story.

For Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, we worked together from the very beginning. The proposal that Patti wrote for editor Carol Hinz (Millbrook Press/Lerner) morphed from sales document to planning document. What questions did Patti need to ask in interviews? What shots did Annie need to tell our story visually?

In the three trips to the three zoos, we had a fabulous time, a lot of laughs, some frustrations, and several adventures. Most of all we learned a lot about what it takes to work together so Patti gets the best quotes and Annie gets the best shots. We’re looking forward to our next book together!

And you bet we have outtakes! How about a massive March blizzard in Denver that closed the road to the National Black-footed Ferret Center in northern Colorado, and forced us to reschedule. Annie has photos of Patti scraping thick snow off our rental car. Or how about the back story to the photograph of Maku (the black rhino at Lincoln Park Zoo) on the book’s cover. As Annie squeezed her camera lens through the bars of his enclosure, Maku turned and charged. Annie fell backwards, and we dissolved into a fit of giggles.

5.     What was the most surprising thing you learned researching this book?

The three scientists in Zoo Scientists to the Rescue—Meredith, Jeff, and Rachel—were all inspired by reading about and participating in conservation projects as kids. They, in turn, hope that kids who read about their adventures will be inspired to follow in their footsteps.

Thank you both for taking the time to share Zoo Scientists to the Rescue with us. It is sure to be a hit with readers when it releases this fall. Is there a curriculum guide for teachers you can share? 

Thank YOU for participating in our blog tour! We are working with grad students at San Diego State University to prepare the curriculum guide. It should be done the last week of Sept. We can send you a link when it’s ready.

We also have videos posted on YouTube you can link and share for more behind the scenes look at what we did during our travels. 😊

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

40 Gallons of Sap to Make 1 Gallon of Syrup -- Research to Book

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. That's a lot of sap! It's not too different from creating a nonfiction book. It takes gallons of research to make one small book.

When I recently went to nErDcampNNE I brought one of my book boxes. Every book I create with Houghton Mifflin has its own box. Some boxes are bigger than others. They get filled with ticket stubs, receipts, articles, books, drafts, photo release forms, and all sorts of stuff that pertain to the writing of the book. They do NOT include all of the articles I have read online or in libraries, or the piles of books that I am not able to keep, including rare editions and such. It also does not include the hundreds of photos I take and download to my computer. 

It does take many "gallons" of research for each book. Every nonfiction writer will tell you the same thing. But we enjoy it! It's a treasure hunt -- an extreme sport  -- a time to EXPLORE! 

There are so many ways that teachers can spur on this exciting phase of writing with students. Loree Griffen Burns, Melissa Stewart, and I discussed having students interview each other, parents, teachers, and community members. Teaching students interview etiquette and how to write questions and ask follow-up questions is part of the learning process. 

Thinking of the research phase more like a quest than finding three sources for a project is the goal. Making discoveries and letting those discoveries lead to more questions and on to more discoveries is the joy we nonfiction authors feel every day. 

And then after all that research we have to distill it down  - just like boiling down the sap  - to find the  jewels we want to include in shaping the book we write. 

Ask any nonfiction author about their research and you will be in for a treat! 

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. 

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...