Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Behind the Books: When the Best Writing Happens

For the last few days, I’ve been working on a video to accompany a book coming out next spring. Why am I filming a whole year in advance? Because I need to get footage of wild roses in bloom, and that only happens one a year—now.

In some ways, structuring a video is a lot like organizing a book. It requires the same set of skills. But filming is completely different. There are so many things to think about—weather, lighting, sound.

When I write, I control every word on the page. But with filming (especially outdoors), so much is out of my control. Sometimes that’s incredibly frustrating, but it can also lead to unexpected miracles.

As I tried to capture footage of wild roses on a windy day, I focused hard on how the plants swayed and how the quality of light cast upon them changed as they moved. And suddenly, I had an a-ha moment.

Changing light. Flickering light. That was it—the perfect way to enrich the beginning and transition to the second section of a manuscript that had me stumped. In fact, I’d abandoned it months ago, thinking it was a lost cause.  

But in that moment, my hope was rekindled. I knew exactly what the manuscript needed. I didn’t even finish filming. I packed up, hurried home, pulled out that old manuscript, and began revising.

Sometimes the best writing happens when you aren’t even trying.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: Why did the water vapor condense?
A: It wanted to dew something.

Q: What does fog like to do on Saturday nights?
A: Just hang around.

Q: What’s the difference between a horse and a cloud?
A: One is reined up and the other rains down.

Q: What do all three kinds of clouds have in common?
A: The letters “us”.

Q: Why don’t mother kangaroos like rainy days?
A: The kids have to play inside.
Looking for more super silly jokes ? Check out Wacky Weather and Silly Season Jokes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Behind the Books: Super Silly Science Jokes, Courtesy of Homographs

You probably learned about homographs in middle school, but here a refresher. A homograph is a word with two or more different meanings. One example is the word spot. It can mean “to see” or “a round mark or stain.”

You can create a question that seems to use one definition of the word and an answer that uses the other.

Q: Is it hard to spot a leopard?
A: No, they come that way.

Here’s another example:

Q: Why was the asteroid unhappy?
A: He knew he’d never be a star.

Here’s a homograph joke that only makes sense if you recall something you probably learned in fourth grade but might not have though about in, er, a bunch of years. Earth has four layers—the crust, the mantle, the outer core, and the inner core. Hope you like it.

Q: How is Earth like a piece of bread?
A: It has a crust.

Now it’s your turn. Can you or the kids you know think of jokes that use these homographs?

• rock (a natural object made of minerals/a kind of music/a back-and-forth movement)
• ear (the organ of hearing/corn on the cob)
• bill (what a bird uses to eat/something you pay)

Feel free to post your best jokes in the comments. We could all use a good laugh.

Be on the lookout for more joke-writing posts in the future. And check out the Super Silly Science Jokes I post on Friday.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cool Clouds: Sunny Afternoon


Most of the cloud images I've posted this year have been taken early in the morning, beore the sun moves around to the front of the house. But I snapped this photo in the later afternoon. It's interesting to see  most of my maple tree in the shadows, with just one branch lit by the sun. The trees in the background are dark too.

The sky is a lazy blue, not quite as bright and rich as I've sometimes seen it. And there's just a smattering of low clouds onthe horizon. But look at that contrail right in the middle of the image. Pleas are a common sight out my office window, but I've never noticed how often they leave behind their steamy trail until I began this cloud-viewing project.

I like to think I'm a better-than-average observer, but these Monday posts of clouds and trees and other wonders of the world have taught me a lot. There's so much magic right outside our windows if we only stop to look.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

  • Most snot is produced by cells on the surface of your nasal passages. In just one day, you make enough snot to fill a 1-liter soda bottle.
  • Snot surrounds dirt, germs, and other pesky particles. Over time, the mixture dries and hardens into a solid booger. Some boogers are soft and squishy. Others are tough and crumbly. But they can all hold their shape.
  • Snot is one kind of mucus, a thick, gummy goo that animals use in all kinds of ways. The mucus on an African chameleon’s tongue is perfect for catching tasty insects.
  • The mucus on a tree frog’s toes helps it stick to branches and other rough surfaces.
  • When predators attack, a hagfish slimes them with mucus. The sticky goo traps the enemies while the hagfish escapes.
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, May 16, 2012

Behind the Books: A Gift for Educators

In March, a Twitter conversation with @mtechman a.k.a. Melissa Techman, the K-5 School Librarian in Charlottesville, VA, led me to write this blog post about nonfiction text features.

And thanks in large part to @mtechman’s RTs of that post, hundreds of educators visited my blog. Thanks, Melissa T.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. In April, I had 10 minutes to present to a room full of Massachusetts Reading Association members at their annual conference. What did I talk about? Nonfiction text features, of course. And nonfiction text structure, too.

I gave out nearly 200 flash drives with the PowerPoint slide shown above (It has just the right proportions for classroom Smart Boards) and a variety of activities that will help elementary students learn about nonfiction text features and nonfiction text structures (cause and effect, compare and contrast, fact and opinion). Boy were those educators excited.

Last week, I presented the same ideas as well as a few new ones to the Nobscot Reading Council at a lovely dinner in Holliston, MA. And I gave out more flash drives. Those educators were excited, too.

Wish you could get ahold of all those materials? Good news. You can. They’re now available on my website. I hope you’ll download them (It’s free and easy!) and use them with your students.

Enjoy!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Clear of Clouds


Week after week, amazing cloud formations have filled the spring sky. But now we're finally having a clear day.

Still, this cloudless sky has plenty worth looking at. I love the way the sun is hitting the newly-emerged leaves on my maple tree. And look at the assortment of greens on the background trees.

And that's not all. Look closely in the upper left area of that bright blue sky. It's a hint of the moon, which is about halfway through it's cycle. What a lovely morning!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: What do “spiders” and “insects” have in common?
A: Both words have seven letters.

Q: What are a stink bug’s favorite letters in the alphabet?
A: P-U.

Q: What kind of beetle has no trouble seeing in the dark?
A: A lightning bug.

Q: What happens when you eat caterpillars?
A: You get butterflies in your stomach.

Q: What does a wasp wear on chilly mornings?
A: A yellow jacket.
Looking for more super silly jokes about insects and their kin? Check out Creepy, Crawly Jokes about Spiders and Other Bugs.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Behind the Books: Super Silly Science Jokes, Courtesy of Homophones

Nope, this isn’t a repeat of March 16th’s blog. Just to confuse you (and middle schoolers in English-speaking countries around the world), some genius came up with the terms homograph (a word with two or more different meanings) and homophone.

Homophones are two or more words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. For example, the words tide and tied are homophones. So are the words hair and hare.

You can create a great joke by mixing homophones. Here’s an example:

Q: How does a rabbit keep its fur neat and clean?
A: It uses a hare brush.

Let’s try one more joke:

Q: How do mountains hear?
A: With mountaineers.


Here’s a joke that uses homophones and a popular expression:

Q: What did the beach say when the tide came in?
A: Long time, no sea.

These jokes are fun because with a little bit of practice, the kids around you might be able to guess the answers. And sometimes they’ll come up with different answers that are just as good. Then you’ll have some brand new jokes to tell someone else.

Now it’s your turn. Can you or the kids you know think of jokes that use these homophones?
• horse/hoarse
• paw/pa
• toad/towed

Feel free to post your best jokes in the comments. We could all use a good laugh.

Be on the lookout for more joke-writing posts in the future. And check out the Super Silly Science Jokes I post on Friday.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cool Clouds: A Hint of Blue

I've seen plenty of beautiful blue skies in my life. They fill me with joy.

But this sky, with a hint of blue amongst a sea of angry cumulus clouds, is far more powerful. When I spotted it out the window, my heart leapt with hope as I reached for my camera.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

1. You have more than 650 muscles in your body. It takes twenty different muscles to smile and more than forty to frown. For a simple stroll down the street, you need more than two hundred muscles.

2. If all the energy your muscles exert in one day were concentrated in your arms, you’d be able to lift two elephants high above your head.

3. Most cells are so small that you need a microscope to see them, but not muscle cells. They’re as thin as a hair, but they can be up to 12 inches (30 cm) long.

4. The more you use your muscles, the bigger, stronger, and heavier they get. If you’re a couch potato, your muscles probably make up about one-third of your body’s total weight. But if you play sports every day, they could make up half of your total weight.

5. The largest and thickest muscle in your body is called the gluteus maximus. Where’s it located? In your butt.

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Behind the Books: Turtle Heaven

For the last few weeks, I’ve been reviewing final art from uber-talented illustrator Higgins Bond and making final edits to the text for my 2013 book A Place for Turtles. So it seems fitting that my husband, brother-in-law, and I took a trek to the Oxbow Wildlife Refuge in Harvard, MA.
Not only is it truly a place for turtles. It's turtle heaven. Really.

Look at this picture. Do you see also those shelled reptiles. There are literally hundreds sunning themselves on logs sticking out of this wetland. And don't even get me started about the frogs. I've never seen more of the leggy leapers in one day.

Peter caught a the painted turtle above, so I could get a close up image. Then he helped it cross the trail.

Later, we spotted this giant snapper crossing the trail in front of us. After snapping a few action shots, we watched and documented it plunging into the water. Awesome!
What a great day!