Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Behind the Books: Go, Go, PebbleGo*

Lately, it seems like Capstone’s PebbleGo is sweeping the nation. At almost every school I visit, elementary students are using the research database to gather information for reports and projects. I think that’s great because I rely heavily on research databases too, and now I can discuss that part of my research process with students.

The PebbleGo database is an online encyclopedia in which each topic is discussed at three different complexity levels, and students can choose the one they want to read. It also has an audio option that makes research possible for pre-literate students.

The databases I use are a little bit different. They help me locate articles on a particular topic in science journals. In some cases, I can download the articles for free. When there’s a fee, I google the title to see if I can find it for free on the Internet. If so, I download it there. If not, I can often get it for free through Interlibrary Loan. If that doesn’t work, I may contact the lead scientist and ask him/her to send me a PDF.
 
I read dozens of articles for many of the books I write, gleaning small bits of information from each one. I couldn’t have written Feathers: Not Just for Flying or the A Place for books or Summertime Sleep, a new picture book coming out in 2017, without combing through journal articles for key information.

Why are scientific papers so important? Because they are the best way to get up-to-date information, and they often include important details that articles written for a lay audience leave out. These articles also help me to understand the intricacies and challenges of a scientist’s research, so that I can talk intelligently when I interview him/her.

I love that I can now explain this important part of my process to even young students and they get it because, like me, they use a database as part of their own research process.


*I do not endorse PebbleGo over other databases for elementary students. It’s merely an observation that most of the schools I visit seem to have selected this particular product.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Book of the Week: Hurricane Watch

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

Since we’re smack dab in the middle of hurricane season, I’ve decided to feature my newest book, Hurricane Watch, this week. It includes two fun activities at the end and can be used to support a range of NGSS Earth Science PEs for grades 2-4.

Hurricane Watch has a blended writing style—part narrative, part expository—and an en media res opening. By examining and discussing these features, students can gain insight into my writing process and learn techniques that they can experiment with in their own nonfiction writing.

Want to share some authentic ways authors gather research? This blog post has just what you need. For more resources on conducting research, visit my Researching Nonfiction board on pinterest.

Enjoy!

Friday, September 25, 2015

10 Great STEM-themed Expository Nonfiction Picture Books

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine

Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge

Creature Features by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston 

Frogs by Nic Bishop

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell

Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci by Gene Barretta

Tiny Creatures: The Invisible World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Behind the Books: Writing By Hand

During school visits, students and teachers often ask me how I physically write my manuscripts. Do I type them using a computer keyboard or do I write them by hand?
 

The answer is YES. I do both.

I type all my research notes into a computer, but during this process, I also “play around with ideas” by writing longhand on paper. I jot down sudden thoughts about structure. I record fun phrases as they pop into my head. I try out different voices or writing styles in short bursts.

Some of this writing is recorded on legal-size pads of paper, but a lot of it is written on scraps of paper. That’s because this kind of thinking often happens while I’m drifting off to sleep, just waking up, taking a shower, out for a walk, or driving in the car. In other words, these thoughts are rising up from my subconscious at times when I’m not actively focused on something else. At these moments, paper is practical. Plus I like to line up all the random scraps of paper and rearrange them.
 
When I’m done with research, I organize information and ideas on the computer, using a method I call chunk and check. Then I begin writing my drafts on the computer.

I know that early drafts will involve false starts, deletions, insertions, and a whole lot of reorganizing. The computer makes sense because cutting and pasting is easier than erasing and more eco-friendly than tossing all my failed attempts into the trash.

But when I feel stuck, when things just aren’t flowing, when I suspect an underlying problem that I can’t yet identify, I return to pen and paper. I have often suspected that I somehow think differently when I am writing longhand. I have wondered if the tactile nature of writing by hand somehow causes different neurons to fire or allows thoughts to travel through or around different neural networks. All I knew for sure is that it worked, so I kept on doing it.

This summer I read Write Like This: Teaching Real-world Writing Through Modeling & Mentor Texts (Stenhouse, 2011) and was delighted to see author Kelly Gallagher address this topic. He says “writing by hand can produce a different, and often richer, level of thinking than does typing away at a keyboard.” His evidence includes studies with the following results:
 
 
—students wrote faster by hand AND generated more ideas when composing essays by hand.

—the sequential finger movements required to write by hand activate brain regions involved with thought, language, and short-term memory

—students who wrote by hand had neural activity that was more advanced

Wow, maybe I should spend even more time writing by hand!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book of the Week: Beneath the Sun

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

Since summer ends on Wednesday, today seems like the perfect day to talk about Beneath the Sun. This book is perfect for science lessons about weather, habitats, and animal adaptations. It directly addresses NGSS PEs 2-LS4-1 and 3-ESS2-1. You can start your lesson with a fun Readers Theater script that I’ve written to accompany the book.

I’ve also created a Teacher’s Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards as well as a video mini-lesson that discusses the importance of vivid verbs in nonfiction writing. You can find additional activities here and other materials, including sample sketches, on my pinterest board for the book.

Enjoy!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

NF4NF Handout: Voice

Nonfiction voice options span a continuum, from lively to lyrical. Your topic and the approach you take to it will dictate the best voice choice for a particular manuscript.

Some Characteristics of a Lively Nonfiction Voice
  • Second person point of view
  • Figurative language, including alliteration/assonance, similes and metaphors, onomatopoeia
  • Sensory details
  • Strong, surprising verbs
  • Irresistible facts
Some Characteristics of a Lyrical Nonfiction Voice
  • Figurative language, including alliteration/assonance, opposition, similes and metaphors
  • Repetition
  • Internal rhyme
  • Strong, surprising verbs

Great Books with a Lively Voice
Works well for expository surveys and some picture-book biographies

Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart

Army Ant Parade by April Pulley Sayre

A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine
Bugged: How Insects Changed the World by Sarah Albee

Deadliest Animals by Melissa Stewart

It’s Spit-acular by Melissa Stewart

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Now Hear This by Melissa Stewart

See How They Run by Susan E. Goodman

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos

Thank You, Sarah by Laurie Halse Anderson


Great Books with a Lyrical Voice
Works well for nature-themed picture books and some biographies

Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart

Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston Hutts

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson

Lightship by Brian Floca

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre

 
Great Books with a Neutral Voice
Works well for books by author-illustrators in which the innovative art/design is the dominant element

Coral Reef by Jason Chin

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Frogs by Nic Bishop

Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Neo Leo by Gene Barretta

Now & Ben by Gene Barretta

Redwoods by Jason Chin

Timeless Thomas by Gene Baretta

Friday, September 18, 2015

NF4NF Handout: The Nonfiction Triumvirate

Nonfiction Categories
Life Story
The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

Brave Girl by Michelle Markle

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Lives of the Presidents (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull
 
Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatium

The Right Word by Jen Bryant

 
Survey Book
Eyewitness Books

The Horrible, Miserable Middle Ages by Kathy Allen

Lightning by Seymour Simon

National Geographic Readers

Spiders by Nic Bishop

Why’d They Wear That? by Sarah Albee


Specialized Nonfiction
Chasing Cheetahs by Sy Montgomery

Handle with Care by Loree Griffin Burns

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Tom Yezerski 

Sniffer Dogs by Nancy Castaldo

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

 

Concept Book
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

Just a Second by Steve Jenkins

Lifetime by Lola Schaefer

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart

Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy

A Star in My Orange by Dana Meachen Rau

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre


-------------------------------------------------------------
Writing Styles

Expository
Facts Plus
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge

Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

 

Fast Facts
Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart

Eyewitness Books

Guinness Book of World Records

Time for Kids Big Book of Why


Narrative
Plot
Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

Buried Alive by Elaine Scott

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

 
Cycle
Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart

A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley

Redwoods by Jason Chin (due to the art)

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre

-------------------------------------------------------------
Common Text Structures
Description/Explanation  
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

Creep and Flutter by Jim Arnosky
Dolphins! by Melissa Stewart

Frogs by Nic Bishop

Lightship by Brian Floca

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos

 
Sequence
Chronological narrative
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman
Buried Alive
by Elaine Scott

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully 

Noah Webster & His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

Pop: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Megan McCarthy

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley

 
Episodic narrative
Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Brave Girl by Michelle Markel

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan


Braided narrative
Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

We’ve Got a Job by Cynthia Levinson


Journey narrative
If Stones Could Speak by Marc Aronson

Lost Treasure of the Inca by Peter Lourie

Quest for the Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery

Saving the Ghost of the Mountain by Sy Montgomery

 
Cycle narrative
A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley

Redwoods by Jason Chin (due to the art)

Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre


Chronological expository
Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee

Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee

Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History by Sarah Albee

 
Cumulative expository
Here Is the Tropical Rain Forest by Madeleine Dunphy

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox

How-to expository
Dessert Designers: Creations You Can Make and Eat by Dana Meachen Rau

How to Swallow a Pig by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes by Doug Stillinger

Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl

Try This! 50 Fun Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by Karen Romano Young


Compare & Contrast
Dueling spreads
Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy

Neo Leo by Gene Barretta

Those Rebels, Tom & John by Barbara Kerley

 
List book
Born in the Wild by Lita Judge

Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer

 
Q & A Books
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine

Good Question series (Sterling)
Creature Features by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Hatch! by Roxie Munro

Hello Bumblebee Bat by Darrin Lunde

Scholastic Question & Answer series

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

 
Cause & Effect
Earth: Feeling the Heat by Brenda Z. Guiberson

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart
When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart
-------------------------------------------------------------
Mixing & Matching
If you’re writing a Life Story . . .
  • Probably sequence (chronological) structure
  • Narrative writing style
If you’re writing a Survey Book . . .
  • Description/explanation, sequence, Q & A
  • Expository writing style
If you’re writing Specialized Nonfiction . . .
  • Probably sequence, compare & contrast
  • Narrative or expository writing style
If you’re writing a Concept Book . . .
  • Sequence, compare & contrast, Q & A, cause & effect, problem—solution, or invent your own
  • Probably expository writing style