Friday, September 6, 2019

Happy 10th Anniversary, Celebrate Science!

It’s hard to believe, but I began this blog 10 years ago this week. I’ve been posting three times a week (during the school year) ever since. That's more than 1,100 posts in all!

Over the summer, I took a look at many of my earlier posts. There are some topics that I’ve written about many times, and others that I wrote about just once or twice and then abandoned. In some ways, my thinking about writing and nonfiction in general has changed and expanded and evolved over time, but some of the ideas I had a decade ago still seem to hold true.

And so on Fridays, this year, I’ve decided to resurrect and update some past posts that sparked conversation or that I think continue to be informative to people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today I’m going to begin this process by sharing my very first posts from September 2, 2009. It’s as true now as it was then.




Aha Moments!
It was 1996. My first children’s book had just been accepted for publication, and I was headed to East Africa to do research for a second book. Life was good.

As friends and family heard about my success, I received a flood of phone calls. They congratulated me, of course. But they also asked some unexpected questions.

“So now are you going to write a real book? You know, one for adults.”

“It’s nonfiction? That’s great. But wouldn’t you rather write fiction?”

These questions confused me. They made me wonder and worry. Was I headed down the wrong path? Was writing for children a waste of time? Was nonfiction less important than fiction?


Luckily, my journey halfway around the world gave me the perspective—and the answers—I needed.

One night around a campfire at the edge of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, our group leader said she was fascinated by aha moments—seemingly small experiences that change the course of a person’s life. She asked the circle of scientists if they could recall such events from their own lives.

When my turn came, I described exploring a wooded area in western Massachusetts with my dad and brother when I was around eight years old. As we hiked, my dad asked lots of questions:

“Why do stone walls run through the middle of the woods?”

“Why do sassafras trees have three kinds of leaves?”

“Why don’t chipmunks build their nests in trees like squirrels?”

He wanted us to think about our surroundings, and he knew a guessing game would be more engaging than a lecture.

As we reached the top of a hill, my dad stopped and scanned the landscape. Then he asked if we noticed anything unusual about that area of the woods.

My brother and I looked around. We looked at each other. We shook our heads.
 
But then, suddenly, the answer came to me. “All the trees seem kind of small,” I said.

My dad nodded. He explained that there had been a fire in the area about twenty-five years earlier. All the trees had burned and many animals had died, but over time, the forest had recovered.

Why was that an aha moment? Because I instantly understood the power of nature. I also realized that a field, a forest, any natural place has stories to tell, and I could discover those stories just by looking.

As the firelight flickered across the African savanna and I described my childhood insights, heads nodded all around me. I was among a group of new friends, kindred spirits who understood my fascination with the natural world.

They knew why I didn’t write fiction. They knew why children were my primary audience. And suddenly, so did I. It was another aha moment.

Now, many years later, I’ve written more than 180 children’s books about science and nature. Some people still ask me why I’ve never written a book for adults. Others want to know if I’ll ever write a novel. But these questions no longer bother me.

I know that my personal mission, the purpose of my writing, is to share the beauty and wonder of the natural world with children of all ages. If one of my books inspires a child to lift up a rock and look underneath or chase after a butterfly just to see where it’s going, then my job is done.

13 comments:

  1. Happy 10th anniversary, Melissa. I have been along for much of the ride, at least 5 years. I know so much more about types of NF, structure, how to excite kids with words due to you and all the folks who have guested on this blog. A BIG thank you. Diamond Anniversary = 10. YOU are a gem.

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  2. Thanks for reading, Kathy. I've made so many wonderful kidlit friends in the last decade, including you.

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  3. This post is beautiful. It inspires me to keep going on my own writing journey. It brought back memories of my own childhood and experiences with nature. I read a reread your books because I love science and nature and I want to write books that touch children the way yours have, the way they have touched me too. Congratulations on your blog anniversary.

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  4. Thanks so much for your kind words, Angela. I wish you well on your own writing journey.

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  5. You were very lucky to have a father who encouraged you to question and think deeply about everything (maybe next time I see you, I'll tell you about the cultural differences between your father and mine even though they both encouraged and valued learning). Your trip to Tanzania sounds amazing; I imagine a journey to Olduvai Gorge would have had a similar impact on my life. :)

    Happy 10th Blogaversary! You provide such an incredible service to all of us who love nonfiction...I hope I will be here to see you celebrate the 20th, 30th, and beyond, anniversaries.

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  6. Thank you, Teresa! Yes, I am so lucky to have parents who have always encouraged and supported me.

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  7. Happy anniversary! Wow - congrats on 10 yrs! I am currently reading a book on honing observation skills in nature that you might know, Tristan Gooley's THE LOST ART OF READING NATURE'S SIGNS. I still have so much to learn!

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  8. Ooh la la, that sounds like a wonderful book. I just ordered it.

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  9. Congratulations on ten years of blogging, Melissa! Thank you for sharing your insights and wisdom with us. I can't think of a more important purpose than to "share the beauty and wonder of the natural world with children of all ages." Your books do that beautifully!

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  10. Thank you, Catherine. I'm so lucky to have a job that I love.

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  11. Congratulations, Melissa, and thank you for sharing your gifts around writing, education, and inquiry. We are all the better for it!

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  12. Thanks for joining me on this journey, Carrie.

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  13. Happy anniversary and thanks for sharing. That was so powerful that I cried. Also, you dad reminds me of mine, amazing in ways you can't describe 😍
    Thank you for all you do and I'm so happy others didn't deter you from it.

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