Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Fun: Five Gross & Goofy Body Facts

  1. Like the water slowly dripping out of a leaky faucet, your never-ending trickle of spit really adds up. In just one day, most people produce enough saliva to fill between one and two 2-liter soda bottles.

  2. Love the sweet taste of honey? Guess what you’re eating? That’s right—spit! To make honey, bees roll thin, runny flower nectar around in their mouths. As the nectar warms up, the mixture gets thicker. Chemicals in the bees’ saliva break down the sugars in the nectar, so the honey is easy to digest. Bee spit also helps to keep the sugary liquid fresh for a long time.

  3. Has a grasshopper ever spit on you when you picked it up? The insect’s bitter spray is a mixture of saliva and partially digested food. Yuck!

  4. Sometimes a gila monster eats just a few large meals each year. A chemical in the lizard’s saliva helps to control the amount of sugar in its blood between feasts. Scientists are using the chemical to develop a new drug for patients with diabetes.

  5. Scientists have found two amazing chemicals in the spit of short-tailed shrews. One chemical could be perfect for treating throbbing migraine headaches, and it might also help reduce wrinkles. The other chemical could help lower blood pressure in patients with heart disease.

    Looking for more Gross & Goofy Body facts? Check out my new book It’s Spit-Acular: The Secrets of Saliva.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Behind the Books:Choosing a Topic

“Where do you get your ideas?” That's a question people—both children and adults—ask me all the time. So I thought I'd answer it here, in case you're curious too.

If you read this post, then you know that I write what I care about—not what I know. One of the things I’m most passionate about is the natural world. But the world is a pretty big place, so how do I narrow things down?

Most of my ideas come from things I read or experiences I have. Go here to see a video about how I got the idea for When Rain Falls. It was a combination of an experience I had (getting stuck in the rain while hiking) and something I saw (a documentary film
called “Microcosmos”).

Next week I'll share the exciting travel adventue that led me to write the book Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Good Morning, Maple!


Hooray! Look at those beautiful colors. They’re just in time for Halloween.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Fun: Readers Theater

Check out this fun Readers Theater script that you can do with your students. It’s perfect for grade 2, but also works well now—early in the school year—for grade 3. If you teach first grade, try it with your students in the spring. Besides being fun and building fluency, the content makes it a good resource for units on weather, the water cycle, habitats, and animal adaptations.

Want to learn more about creating Readers Theater scripts based on science-themed picture books? Click here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Behind the Books: Choosing a Favorite

Whenever I do a school visit, one of the questions kids ask me is “Which of your books is your favorite. I never feel completely comfortable answering this question.

Sometimes I say my current work-in-progress is my favorite. After all, if I hope to complete it, I have to stay enthusiastic about it. This is an honest answer.

Other times I make a joke about not being able to choose a favorite—just like parents can’t choose a favorite child. We love them all in different ways and for different reasons. This is an honest answer too.

The truth is that my ideas about favorite books are a bit mercurial—always changing. My current book really is my favorite when I’m working on it. But when I stand back and look at my body of work objectively, it's hard to pinpoint one or even two or three favorites.


When I am less objective, I begin to remember the story behind the stories. I think about what else was happening in my life as I wrote them. I think about reviews and book signings and letters I've received from young readers. I think about the place each book has occupied in my life and my career and my heart. In these sentimental moments, I can clearly identify two books that really mean a great deal to me.

One is my first published book, Life without Light. It’s a favorite because it was my first. I learned so much while I was researching and writing it, and when I was trying to sell it. That book is all about my orad to becoming an author and the path to publication.

Sadly, Life without Light went out of print about a year ago. But I have to admit, it was time. In the 10 years it was available for sale, so much research was done about creatures that live in Earth’s dark, hidden ecosystems that the book was completely out of date by the time it went out of print. Some people have asked if I’ll update it or write a sequel. Right now, I don’t really think so. But you never know.

My other favorite is A Place for Butterflies, my first picture book. That book is like the Little Engine that Could. It sold slowly at first, but the honors and awards have steadily piled up and up and up. This is very gratifying to me because the book’s message is very close to my heart.

The book, beautifully illustrated by the very talented Higgins Bond, is a collection of eleven stories about things people—both scientists and citizens—are doing to protect butterflies and their habitats. The book came out in 2006, just before people began to become re-energized about environmental issues. And the book has ridden the wave of enthusiasm to thrilling heights.

At this point, the book can stand on its own. I no longer actively look for opportunities to speak about it or do book signings. But every now and then I get a potent reminder that the book is still making its way into new young readers’ hands and that it is still making an impact.

Last summer, Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester, Massachusetts, created a StoryWalk trailside exhibit that honors the book. I was thrilled by the news because the exhibit gives families a chance to do several important things simultaneously—read, enjoy time together, and learn about the magic and mystery of the natural world.

Where will The Little Book that Could take me next? I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Good Morning, Maple!

Last week I noticed that the Norway maple I’ve been observing in the front yard seems to be holding onto its green coloring longer than the Norway maple out by our driveway. Because our front yard faces south and gets a lot of afternoon sunlight, I was thinking that the light and the warmth associated with it was delaying the leaves' color change.

But this week I’m not so sure about that hypothesis. Look at the Norway maple outside my window now. There are hints of yellow here and there. But there is a lot of brown on those leaves.

Brown, brown, brown. That’s what's supposed to happen to leaves in other areas of the country. But here in New England, we are supposed to see brilliant yellows and fiery reds and bright oranges. And I do see colors like that on other trees, but not on my maple. For some reason, it’s not showing off this year.

I’m not sure why my maple’s leaves are only giving a half-hearted performance. But I’m going to keep watching and investigating. Let’s see if we can figure it out.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Fun: Five Gross & Goofy Body Facts

  1. A chameleon’s eyeballs can rotate in almost any direction, but they don’t always move together. One eye can look up while the other looks down. One can stare straight ahead while the other glances backward. That makes it easy for chameleons to scan their surroundings for predators and prey.

  2. Tough, clear scales protect a snake’s eyes. When the snake molts, or sheds its skin, the eye scales pop off, too. Luckily, there are new ones waiting underneath.

  3. When a male razorback sucker rolls his eyes at another male fish, he’s saying, “Back off, punk. This is my stream!” When a female yellow-bellied slider turtle rolls her eyes at a male, it means, “Hubba, hubba! You look like a good mate.”

  4. Looking for a tasty treat? In some countries people snack on cows’ eyes. After removing the vitreous humor, lens, cornea, and iris, they boil what’s left. Then they stuff the eyes with coleslaw, beef, or cream cheese. Sounds yummy!

  5. Whirligig beetles and four-eyed fish are the only animals that can see clearly above and below water at the same time. What’s their secret? Their eyeballs are divided in half. The top half of each eye watches for predators and prey above the water’s surface while the bottom half keeps an eye on the watery world below. What a great trick!

    Looking for more Gross & Goofy Body facts? Check out my new book The Eyes Have It: The Secrets of Eyes and Seeing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Behind the Books: DON’T Write What You Know

I know lots of things. I know how to make my husband a sandwich just the way he likes it. I know how to wash windows so they don’t streak and how to make “hospital corners” when I change the sheets on a bed. I even know how to clean a toilet and sort my trash properly at the transfer station (a.k.a. the dump).

But I certainly don’t want to write a book about any of these chores. I’d be bored, and so would my readers.

That’s why it really bugs me when teachers tell kids to write what they know. I write books about science because I love it. I am passionate about the natural world, and I want to share its wonders with children.

Look at your favorite book, the best piece of writing you can think of, and I guarantee you’ll see the author’s passion shining through. It’s what fuels great writing.

That’s why I tell kids to write what they care about. This generates description of fire trucks and reports about Barbie dolls and BMX racing. Now I couldn’t care less about any of these topics, but I do care about teaching kids to enjoy writing. And I want them find ways to communicate ideas successfully.

When kids (or adults) write about whatever inspires or excites or intrigues them, they will be motivated to share their passions with their readers. And that will make the writing better. I guarantee it. Give it a try.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Good Morning, Maple!


Mid-October is supposed to be the peak of the foliage season her in New England. So my husband and I hiked over a mountain to see what we could see. This is what we saw when we looked up. Beautiful.

This is what we saw when we looked down. Lovely.

But this is what I see out of my window this morning.


My Norway maple, the most prominent feature of our small front yard, is still green, green, green. Why is it lagging behind the trees we saw in the woods over the weekend?

Let’s go outside and investigate.

Hey, wait a minute! Look at this Norway maple in our side yard.
It’s a bright, cheery yellow. Shouldn’t it be just as green as my Norway maple in the front yard? What’s going on?

Here’s a closer view of “my” maple tree from the same angle that I photograph it out my window.

It reveals one yellow leaf out of about a hundred. At least it’s a beginning, right?

Now let’s go around take a look at the other side of “my” maple. Here’s a shot I took from our driveway.

It’s kind of hard to see, but there are a lot more yellow leaves on this side of the tree. Hmmm. I wonder why.

So here’s what we know.

1. My Norway maple in the front yard is still mostly green.

2. The other Norway maple in the side yard is completely yellow.

3. The part of my Norway maple that faces the side yard has considerably more yellow leaves than the part of the tree that faces the street.

I’ve developed a hypothesis. Have you? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Fun: Five Science-sational Jokes

Q: What did the hawk order at the ice cream shop?
A: A milk snake.

Q: What do you get when you cross a young bird with a puff adder?
A: A chick who is good at math.

Q: What did the pit viper say as it slithered around the rat snake?
A: Ex-scutes* me.

*Scutes are the scales that line the bottom of a snake’s body and help it move.

Q: If a snake went to school, what would its favorite class be?
A: Hiss-tory

Q: What kind of snake never skips dessert?
A: A piethon

For some more serious information about snakes, check out my book Snakes!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Behind the Books: A Big Announcement

As some of you know, Celebrate Science isn’t the only blog I write for. Once a month, I post to I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. I.N.K. began in January 2008, as the brainchild of Linda Salzman, who assembled 22 award-winning children’s book authors who are passionate about nonfiction.

In July 2009, author Vicki Cobb had a vision for our future that excited us all. She imagined the body of our work becoming a one-stop-shop for educators in search of a quick, easy way to find quality nonfiction books to meet their teaching needs. By aligning all our books to the National Education Standards and creating a website with a database, we could help teachers, librarians, and homeschoolers create classroom libraries that perfectly match the topics they cover throughout the school year.

Most classroom materials written to State or National Standards are designed to meet test requirements, rather than to stimulate kids’ natural curiosity, fire up their imaginations, and inspire innovative thinking. Recent studies have shown that many students, especially boys, prefer nonfiction to fiction. If kids are exposed to creative, well-written nonfiction, they are significantly more likely to become lifelong readers. In addition, assessment tests mandated by No Child Left Behind require that students be skilled in reading and writing nonfiction. Kids need great books to serve as models of good expository writing, and the books in the INK Think Tank database fill the bill.

The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity as we worked to turn Vicki’s vision into a reality. Today, we are launching the site, INK Think Tank: Nonficiton Authors in Your Classroom. Go take a look. It’s something I know you won’t want to miss.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Good Morning, Maple!

Today I’m going to be speaking at the Massachusetts School Library Association conference, so I took this photo yesterday. I know that’s cheating a little bit, but I have to hit the road before it’s fully light out.

Since it’s October, I thought the leaves of my maple would be showing some hints of color. But not yet.


I guess the tree is a little bit like me. It wants to hold onto the last vestiges of summer for as long as it can.

I can’t wait to see how the tree looks a week from now.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

  1. Want to know how an elephant feels? Just look at its ears. When an elephant feels calm or safe, it holds its ears flat against its body. But when an elephant is angry or frightened, it holds its ears out straight.

  2. A fennec fox lives in the desert, but staying cool is no problem. On hot afternoons it releases body heat through the thin skin on its enormous ears.

  3. In the chilly Arctic large ears could freeze and fall off. That’s why a polar bear has small ears covered with thick fur. When the bear goes swimming, lays its ears flat against its head so water can’t trickle in.

  4. A whale’s earwax builds up in layers year after year. When scientists find a dead whale, they can tell how long it lived by counting the layers of wax inside its ears.

  5. How can you tell the difference between sea lions and true seals? By looking at their ears. Sea lions have small flaps of skin covering their ear canals, but you can see straight into a true seal’s ears.
Looking for more Gross & Goofy Body facts? Check out my new book Now Hear This: The Secrets of Ears and Hearing.