Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

  • Horses and deer walk on their tippy toes. Because these animals can really reach out during each stride, they move very fast.
  • Why can a jacana walk on floating plants? Because its long, thin toes spread out the bird’s body weight.
  • A turkey uses its large toes and sharp toenails to scratch the ground in search of insects and other tasty treats.
  • The sticky pads on a gecko’s toes help it dart up tree trunks and scamper along branches.
  • Ever noticed stinky globs of caking, crumbling gunk between your toes? It’s toe cheese—a mangled mash of dead skin cells, dirt, bacteria, and sock lint. Yuck!

Looking for more Gross & Goofy Body facts? Check out my book Give Me a Hand: The Secrets of Hands, Feet, Arms, and Legs. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Behind the Books: Hayward, WI

Last weekend, I spoke at the Northwoods Children’s Book Conference in Hayward, WI. And the moment I drove into town, I knew Hayward was A Place for Fish.

The first thing I noticed was this bait shop.
You wouldn’t see something like that where I live. I knew there must be some serious anglers and probably some wonderful lakes around. (No surprise, since there was plenty of glaciers action around here about 12,000 years ago.)

I was tempted to go inside and take a look at some of the leeches, but the shop was closed. Bummer.

A little farther down the road, I spied this through the trees . . .

and then this . . .

. . . and this.
Wow. That’s one big muskie!* It was the highlight of an outdoor fish park at the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. Who knew there even was a National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame? Well, there is. And it's in Hayward, WI.

But I still haven't told you the coolest part. It was displayed in such a way that with a little imagination (okay, maybe more than a little), you could picture it coming alive and plunging into the Namekagon River, which was just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Definitely within muskie-jumping range as far as I’m concerned. Really, it could happen.

I walked along the river to this boat launch.
See that sign to the left? Let's take a closer look . . .
See. I told you. Hayward really is A Place for Fish. Those anglers care about the natural environment and work hard to protect it against invasive species.


*How’d an East Coast girl like me recognize this Midwestern freshwater fish? Lucky for me, I’d learned all about the muskellunge (a.k.a. muskie) when I wrote Life in a Lake a few years ago. This fish’s name comes from the Ojibwa language and means “ugly fish.” Gotta love that.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cool Clouds: Will It Rain?

Yesterday morning the sky was blanketed with these dark stratus clouds: rain makers. But as I snapped this photo, I didn’t know for sure that it would rain. After all, not all stratus clouds produce rain.

And as it turned out, these clouds didn’t. It was a dry day.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Fun: Identity Unknown

A few weeks ago, I was on a little island off the coast of Maine and spotted this guy (or girl). I’ve tried in vain to identify him (or her) with no luck.

Anybody know what kind of caterpillar it is?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Behind the Books: Honeybee Productions

When I quit my job and became a fulltime writer in 2000, I needed a name for my business. My mom suggested “honeybee” because it’s science-y and because Melissa is the Greek word for “honeybee.”

I loved it. But I needed another word to go with it. Writing? No, I also did editing. Books? No, it sounded like a publishing company. Hmmm.

Then, my friend Brendan January suggested Honeybee Productions. “You never know what you’ll be doing in 10 years,” he wisely said. “I think you want to keep it as broad as possible. Who knows, maybe you’ll make a movie someday.”

Did Brendan have a crystal ball? Back in those days Flip cameras and Facebook and YouTube didn’t even exist. There were no iphones, iPods, or iPads either. But somehow Brendan predicted the future.

I never really used the name “Honeybee Productions”—until this summer. Here’s my very first self-made video production. I hope you like it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cool Clouds: A First Look

Okay, so here's my first cloud image. I spotted the altocumulus clouds on Saturday morning. They are supposed to indicate that a cold front is one the way, and I guess that makes sense because the last couple of days have been cool and the nights were downright chilly. Just right for autumn.

Those beautiful colors are just around the corner. Are you ready?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Fun: Five Gross & Goofy Body Facts

1. About 7 billion people live on Earth today, but there are more germs than that on and inside your body right now. They’re on your skin and under your fingernails. They’re inside your mouth, nose, and intestines. They’re even in your eyelashes.

2. Between 1914 and 1918, about 20 million people had died in World War I. Just as the war was ending, Spanish flu swept across Europe. It killed 25 million people in 6 months.

3. Some bacteria divide every twenty minutes. In just three days, one of them could produce enough new bacteria to equal the mass of the entire Earth.

4. Almost every illness you can think of is caused by a germ. Scientists have identified at least 5,000 kinds of viruses and 30,000 kinds of bacteria. There are probably thousands more left to discover.

5. You can’t catch a cold from a dog or cat, but you can get the flu from a horse, a pig, or even a duck.

Looking for more Gross and Goofy Body facts? Check out my book Germ Wars: The Secrets of Fighting Invaders. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Behind the Books: My Summer Project

When my first book was published in 1998, I had no idea that being an author involved a whole lot more than researching and writing. There’s also school visits, speaking at conferences, promoting books as they come out, maintaining a website. The list goes on and on.

My current writing project is always front and center in my mind, but for the last few summers, I’ve committed to spending time on a marketing project too. A couple of years ago, I overhauled my website. Last summer, I developed some new school visit programs. This summer was all about videos.

I did some research, bought an editing program, and started to fool around with the video setting on my digital camera. As it turns out, my first production didn’t include any video at all. It’s a compilation of school visit photos. But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

A production with just photos means no sound. There are a couple of soundtracks that come free with the slide show builder section of my editing program, but I didn’t think they were appropriate. I could have bought rights to use a downloadable sound file, but I decided not to go that route. Instead, I wanted to feature a couple of songs that I’d written to go with my books.

Since my husband is a musician, he has some recording equipment. I bought a microphone that would be perfect for recording voices (his are better for instruments), got together a group of kids, and had a recording session in my office. It was a whole lot of fun, and those kids did a great job.

Here’s a video of them performing.

And here’s their lovely singing coupled with photos I’ve taken at recent school visits.

It was a lot of work, but I really like it. What do you think?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cool Clouds: Getting Started

Two years ago, this Monday strand of my blog spent a year following the maple tree right outside the window of my office. It was a big success because I learned all kinds of cool things about Norway maples in general and my tree and its inhabitants in particular.

Last year, I decided to call the stand Take a Look. My plan was to look at cool stuff in nature all year long and write about it in different voices. It was, er, moderately successful. I started out strong, but I kept getting pulled in different directions.

We did take a look at all kinds of things, but they didn’t all have to do with the natural world. I decided that this year I need to be more focused with the title of the strand. Maybe that way I’ll stick to my goals.

Recently, I wrote a book on lightning. And I’m in the middle of working on a book full of fun weather jokes. So for the last year or so I’ve done lots of research about clouds. I’ve always thought clouds were beautiful, magical even, but now that I’ve been learning so much about them, I’m even more enchanted. So this year, my Monday strand will be Cool Clouds.

Here’s my plan. Each week I’ll take a photo of the clouds right outside my office window. Luckily, there’s a nice patch of open sky just to the left of my maple tree. To get us started, I’ve included a photo of my target area clear of clouds. Lovely, isn’t it?

I’m very curious to see what happens—and if I can stick to my plan.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday Fun: International Rock Flipping Day

We all know that Sunday, September 11 is the anniversary of one of the worst days in U.S. history, but the date also has a more fun side. It’s International Rock Flipping Day.

What does that mean? It’s a time to celebrate all those critters that live under rocks, as well as the naturalist spirit that drives you to look a little deeper.

All you have to do is go outside and look under a rock or two. Then record what you see by drawing, painting, taking photographs or writing about it. (If you live where there might be poisonous creatures under there, like scorpions or snakes, you might want to use a stick to flip the rocks.) When you are done, carefully return the rock to its original position.

It’s fun and easy and you just might meet some pretty cool critters.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Behind the Books: Lucky Larvae

During my summer vacation, I did a lot of reading. One of my favorites was What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos, illus by Stephane Jorisch (Millbrook, 2011).

Why did I like this book so much? I picked it up because I liked the clever concept. And boy did this book deliver. (Okay, pun intended.) The art is colorful and fun and quirky, and kids will love the engaging ,tongue-in-cheek tone. Heos got it just right. But most of all, I liked this book because it reminded me just how far kids books—especially nonfiction books--have come in the last decade.

I remember the day just about 10 years ago when my nephew, who was bug-crazy at the time, asked me to find him a book about bugs that were still growing up—just like him. I couldn’t find one, and my editor (at Millbrook, no less) agreed to write one. The result was Maggots, Grubs, and More: The Secret Lives of Young Insects.

Believe it or not, the writing style, color-coated sectional format, and fun design with large, colorful photos, were cutting edge for those days. But now I look at that book and laugh. The book has sold well, and the royalty checks continue to arrive twice a year, but by today’s standards, the design seems claustrophobic and the writing is, well, significantly less amusing than What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae.

So while Maggots, Grubs, and More is full of great information, and most of it is still scientifically accurate, I’m not sure how many kids would pick it up off the shelf and dive in. That’s why I’m so glad What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae exists. It covers much of the same material in a way that will entertain and educate young readers.