Wednesday, October 21, 2020

From Research to Revision, Ick! Part 6

On Wednesdays this fall, I’m sharing the process of creating my recently-published book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defensesstep-by-step (To learn about the whole process in one sitting or to share an age-appropriate version with your students, check out this new resource on my website.)

Last week I started to discuss the drafting process by sharing a technique that nonfiction writers can use to find a focus. You can scroll down and read that post. 

Today, I’ll pick up where I left off.

Once I found a focus and did some additional research to gather more specific information about Lepidodexia bufonivora, the flesh fly larvae that live inside and feed on toads, I started thinking about creative ways to share this information with my readers. I went back to my notebook and made a few more notes:
First, I realized that I might be able to infuse humor into my writing by incorporating the word “croak,” which has a double meaning. Then I noticed the words “the end” and thought that perhaps I could use a narrative writing style.

As I continued brainstorming, I started to make personal connections:

The idea of sharing the information as a story made me think about helping my niece write a fractured fairytale for school. Maybe I could write a sort of twisted tale about the flesh fly.

As I re-read my notes, the word “surprised” made me think of the party I had recently planned for my husband. Maybe the surprising nature of the fly-toad relationship should be the central idea of the piece.

Because I’d come up with two different ways to approach the text, and I liked them both, I decided to create two different versions and then figure out which one I liked better. 

Version 1: A Toad-al Surprise
Think you know what happens when a fly and a toad cross paths? Then get ready for a BIG surprise! 

When a female flesh fly encounters a harlequin toad, she doesn’t become lunch. Instead, she darts down and deposits her newly-hatched maggots on the toad’s skin.

What happens next? The white, wormy youngsters get to work, burrowing into the toad’s body. Then the maggots devour their victim from the inside out. 

That’s right. In this scenario, it’s the toad that croaks.



Version 2: The Fly and the Toad
Once upon a time, there was a fly and a toad. Think you know how this story ends? Think again.

In this twisted tale, a female flesh fly deposits her newly-hatched larvae on a harlequin toad’s skin. The white, wormy youngsters wriggle and squirm as they burrow into the toad’s body. Then the maggots devour their victim from the inside out. 

The end. 

Actually, it’s the end for the toad, but not for the larvae. With their bellies full, the maggots turn into pupae. And a few weeks after that, they emerge as adults.

If you look closely at these two versions, you can see how they connect to the ideas I explored in my writer’s notebook. You’ll also notice that some phrases appear in both pieces. That's because they present facts that came from my research.

Because I took the time to find a focus and make personal connections, I was able to create two pieces that are different from each other and different from the way another writer would describe the fly-toad relationship. Not only does this method for evaluating and synthesizing research work for students as well as professional writers, it also makes the writing more vibrant and interesting. AND it helps writers avoid any possibility of plagiarism. 

So which version did I end up using in my book? The section about flesh flies on pages 68-69 is quite similar to Version 1. 



But if you turn to the section about bombardier beetles, you’ll see some similarities to Version 2. For example, the main text begins: “Once upon a time, there was a beetle and a toad.” And the second paragraph says: “Think that’s the end of this true tale? Then you’re in for a surprise.” 

So, in a way, I ended up using them both.

The flesh fly text didn’t change all that much during the revision process, but some sections did. I’ll talk more about that next week.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Resources for Educators: Nonfiction Read Alouds


More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m going to be sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to focus on Nonfiction Read Alouds.

When it comes to read alouds, most teachers turn to fiction, but nonfiction read alouds can be just as powerful. If you read a book to students every day, I recommend selecting a nonfiction title twice a week. Because narrative nonfiction has so much in common with fiction, I suggest focusing more attention on expository titles.

When I talk to teachers who are hesitant to read nonfiction aloud, I hear the same three questions over and over: 

—How do I locate appropriate nonfiction titles?

—How do I read nonfiction aloud in a way that engages students?
—How do I encourage and facilitate student responses to a nonfiction read aloud?
The resources on this page of my website address these excellent questions. You’ll also find 50 recommended titles—25 have an expository writing style, and 25 have a narrative writing style.

This page also includes Read Alouds Guides that can assist you in sharing 15 of my books with your students. 

You may also want to try the Sibert Smackdown and March Madness Nonfiction, two fun activities that can be done with your class or even with your whole school. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

5 Kinds of Nonfiction Interactive Teaching Tool


Last Friday, I wrote a blog post describing all the exciting things that are happening for the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction—a classification I developed to help teachers, students, writers, editors, reviewers (everyone, really) make sense of the wonderful world of children’s nonfiction being published today.

The very next day, 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books, the book I co-wrote with Marlene Correia, professor of literacy education  at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, became available for order. So I updated the post. You can order a copy here.

And then on Sunday, I received some more terrific news from Christine Royce, professor of teacher education at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and past president of the National Science Teaching Association. She used a software program called Storyline to create an engaging interactive mini-course/mini-lesson/teaching tool that explains the system, features a wide range of award-winning books as exemplars, and includes a fun review section at the end. What a great idea!


Christine’s teaching tool is a fantastic way to introduce the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction to adults with an interest in children’s literature. It could also work well for some upper elementary and middle grade students, especially if you pair it with these hands-on activities that encourage students to sort books into the various categories.

If you’d like to know more about the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system, you can sign up for the free webinar I’m giving on Wednesday, October 21. It’s hosted by School Library Journal with the support of Lerner Books. The presentation will be recorded, so people can watch it at their convenience.



Wednesday, October 14, 2020

From Research to Revision, Ick! Part 5

On Wednesdays this fall, I’m sharing the process of creating my recently-published book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses step-by-step. (To learn about the whole process in one sitting or to share an age-appropriate version with your students, check out this new resource on my website.)

Last week I discussed writing the proposal and how my plan transformed from three 48-page books into one 112-page book. You can scroll down and read that post. Today, I’ll begin a description of the drafting process for the spread that focuses on flesh flies. 

Believe it or not, there are more than 2,500 species of flesh flies living on Earth, and as I discovered during the research process, they’re icky in all kinds of ways. 

For example:
—Some flesh flies drink juices from rotting fruit. Many sip liquids from animal poop and animal carcasses. 
—Some female flesh flies place their worm-like maggots (larvae) on dung. Others choose rotting carcasses or the open wounds of living animals.
—Some flesh fly maggots burrow into live animals, including other insects, snails, and toads.
—Some flesh fly maggots eat their hosts from the inside out and eventually kill them.

I could have tried to cram all this information into the book, but I knew that would be a mistake. Anytime writers use too many general words like “some” and “many,” the writing gets less interesting. I wanted my writing to be lively and full of fascinating, specific details.

But what should I focus on? I just couldn’t decide. Luckily, I remembered a technique I learned from Ryan Scala, a fifth-grade teacher in East Hampton, New York.

When students are done researching, Ryan encourages them to review their notes and circle facts and ideas they consider especially important or interesting. Then he invites them to choose one of the following prompts and jot some thoughts in their writer’s notebook:
—The idea this gives me …
—I was surprised to learn …
—This makes me think …
—This is important because … 

I chose the second prompt and wrote the following in my notebook.


Until I wrote that sentence on paper, I hadn’t really thought about the irony of a fly eating a toad. I decided that would be a fun focus, so I did some more research to learn as much as I could about Lepidodexia bufonivora, the flesh fly that targets toads. 

I highly recommend trying Ryan’s technique the next time your students are writing nonfiction. Finding a focus of personal interest forces writers to be specific, and it helps them stay engaged, both of which result in prose that’s interesting and unique. 

Next week, I’ll continue to discuss the drafting process for this flesh fly spread.

Friday, October 9, 2020

5 Kinds of Nonfiction: The Journey Continues

When I first started to think about classifying the wonderful world of nonfiction children’s books way back in 2012, I had no idea that I was embarking on a journey of exploration and discovery that would continue for years. Along the way, I’ve had many rich conversations and developed cherished friendships with teachers, librarians, editors, and authors who are just as passionate as nonfiction as I am. Go nonfiction!

I'm so pleased that the five-category system I proposed on my blog in 2017 has turned out to be useful to so many people, as we try to understand all that today’s nonfiction has to offer and share the amazing books with students (and one another).

What’s 
the most recent development in the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction saga? For the last few months, Lerner Books has been busily sorting their entire catalog of nonfiction titles according to the characteristics of the five categories—active, browseable, traditional, expository literature, and narrative.

On Wednesday, we announced their incredible effort in this blog post. Look at the amazing poster they produced to explain the system and highlight books that are representative of each category. Wow! You can even download a copy of your own.


They also created this terrific flyer.

As part of Lerner’s effort to share the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction system far and wide, they teamed up with School Library Journal to host a webinar in which I share my latest thinking about the system and  recommend recently-published nonfiction books I’m excited about.

You can register here.

And that's not all. Next spring, I’m teaming up with Marlene Correia, professor of literacy education  at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, to bring you a book called 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books. You can pre-order it here

I’m also scheduling three different professional development workshops that focus on the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction—one for librarians, one for teachers, and one for children’s book writers. You can learn more about them here.

Where will the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction system take me next? I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

From Research to Revision, Ick! Part 4


On Wednesdays this fall, I’m sharing the process of creating my recently-published book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses step-by-step. (To learn about the whole process in one sitting or to share an age-appropriate version with your students, check out this new resource on my website.)

Last week I discussed making a plan, which involves figuring out the text’s major characteristics. You can scroll down and read that post. Today, I’ll focus on what happened next, and how I got a bit of a surprise.

If I’d been planning to write a picture book, I would have started writing my rough draft at this point, but because I’d collected so much great information about icky animals, I decided to write three 48-page books for middle grade readers—one called Disgusting Dinners, one called Disgusting Dwellings, and one called Disgusting Defenses. Since the books would have the same design and text characteristics, I thought I’d be able to sell the series with a proposal.
As you can see, my proposal included ideas about what the books would physically look like, a description of the content, an outline, a list of all the animals I’d include, and three writing samples. 

Here you can see the writing sample for the black-backed jackal. At this point, I envisioned a main text with two additional text features—a fast fact and a stat stack.


National Geographic loved the idea, but they wanted one 112-page book instead of three 48-page books. They also wanted a larger trim size and a lot more text on each page. I developed some ideas for additional sections , including Extra Ick! and a Critter Challenge math riddle, and submitted a revised writing sample, which they approved.

 

Why don’t you see those Critter Challenge sidebars in the final book? Eventually, we decided to cut them all.


Now it was time to start writing. I’ll share more about that process next week.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Resources for Educators: Sharing Expository Nonfiction

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m going to be sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to focus on Sharing Expository Nonfiction with students.


If you click on this link, you’ll find an explanation of the two writing styles—narrative and expository. Currently, narrative nonfiction gets most of the attention and praise from educators, but studies show that many students prefer expository text or enjoy both writing styles equally. 

To help educators turn more student into passionate readers, this page features resources that (1) explain why it’s important to share expository text and (2) provide easy ways to integrate expository nonfiction into existing curricula. It also includes a list of high-quality expository titles that should be in every classroom and library collection.

Friday, October 2, 2020

#KIDSinSTEM Picture Books

Last week I shared some of my favorite picture book biographies about female scientists. As I was compiling that list, I realized I should look at books that feature #KIDSinSTEM too. Here are some terrific titles everyone should know about—some nonfiction and some fiction. 


11 Experiments that Failed by Jenny Offill (fiction)


Bird Count by Susan Richmond (fiction)


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (nonfiction)


The Girl Who Named Pluto: The Story of Venetia Burney by Alice B. McGinty (informational fiction)


Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby (nonfiction)


Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully (nonfiction)


The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (fiction)

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

From Research to Revision, Ick! Part 3


On Wednesdays this fall, I’m sharing the process of creating my recently-published book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses step-by-step. (To learn about the whole process in one sitting or to share an age-appropriate version with your students, check out this new resource on my website.)

Last week I discussed gathering information for the book. You can scroll down and read that post. Today, I’ll focus on my next step—making a writing plan.

This step looks different from one book to the next, but the general idea is to figure out as many characteristics of the text as possible. I think about the hook, the writing style, the text structure, the format, and the voice. In most cases, I will have made decisions about some of these elements during the research process, but others may still need careful consideration. It’s better to work them out now—before I start writing.

Because I had so much great information about animals’ disgusting behaviors, I decided to write three 48-page books for middle grade readers—one about disgusting animal dinners, one about disgusting animal dwellings, and one about disgusting animal defenses. All three would have the same design, format, and text characteristics.

To make my plan, I created a quick list of things I already knew about the books I had in mind:

--About accepted knowledge (not a person or process)

--Lots of cool examples

--Gross out factor

Since the books were about accepted knowledge, I knew they would have an expository writing style. 


I also knew the books would have lots of icky examples sandwiched between an introduction and conclusion that explain how the examples are connected, so they should have a list text structure with a one-example-per-spread format. 


For some books, I need to think long and hard about the hook, but in this case, it was built into the concept. The gross-out factor also made it easy to settle on using a lively, playful voice.

With these elements worked out, I had a plan in place.


I’ll talk more about my next step (and how three books turned into one) next week.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Resources for Educators: Readers Theater


More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m going to be sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to focus on the Readers Theater Scripts.

Readers Theater is a reading activity that employs theatrical techniques without the hassle of props, costumes, or sets. Instead of memorizing lines, students read directly from scripts, using intonation, facial expressions, and gestures to create characters that transport the audience into the story.

This fun, whole-class activity has many benefits. For starters, it builds fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, and studies show gains carry over to new and unpracticed texts. In addition, Readers Theater promotes cooperative interaction among students, improves listening and speaking skills, and helps even the shyest students develop self-confidence when reading aloud.

Children get excited about Readers Theater because they’re natural performers and love using their imaginations. This activity allows emergent, struggling, and more advanced readers to participate in the same performance with equal success. Perhaps most importantly, it gives repetitive reading a purpose because students want to do well during the performance. 

Using Readers Theater to introduce and reinforce life science concepts can be especially powerful. Here’s why:
—Students are more likely to retain ideas and information when they’re incorporated into a fun activity.
—Students feel a connection to the creatures they portray and may learn to see the world from the animals’ point of view.
—Students gain a deeper understanding of animal behaviors and lifestyles.
—Students discover how living things interact.
—Students become more aware of the roles plants and animals play in their environment.

While many Readers Theater scripts include just ten or twelve parts, the ones I’ve created have twice as many roles, so no child is left out. The parts vary in complexity to accommodate students at a variety of reading levels, and the scripts include a variety of choruses to keep everyone involved and engaged throughout the reading.

Recently, Minnesota teacher Pam Patron Warren suggested another great use for the scripts on my website. She uses them as paired passages with the book they accompany. This approach allows students to see examples of the same information being presented in two different ways.

For example, the books Feathers: Not Just for Flying and Under the Snow have a lyrical voice, while the readers theater scripts are more lively and humorous. Students can compare the two texts and discuss why I wrote them differently.

Because the animals become characters that speak in the scripts, students can also discuss how the shift in point of view turns the writing into informational fiction, while the books themselves are expository nonfiction.

Pam says these paired-passage lessons are “fun and accessible to all the kids in my class.” I encourage you to give this teaching strategy a try.

For more information about Readers Theater, including tips for writing scripts based on books you love, check out this article.

Friday, September 25, 2020

10 Fave #WomeninSTEM Picture Book Biographies

Over the last 10 years, I’ve shared a lot of STEM-themed book lists, but it recently occurred to me that I’ve never written a post that highlights some of my favorite picture book biographies about female scientists. There are SO many to choose from, but here are a few that have really stuck with me.


*A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America On the Moon by Suzanne Slade


Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark


Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor by Laurie Wallmark


*Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez


Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins


Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe


Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor


Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle


*Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter


What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barrett

*Feature diverse scientists