Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Fun: A Perfect Pair

Different students enjoy different kinds of books and learn in different ways, so pairing fiction and nonfiction books can be a great way to introduce a wide variety of science topics.

Here’s a pair of books that is perfect for reinforcing an interest in science and the natural world in girls aged 9-12. These books show the obstacles girls and young women once faced on the road to becoming great scientists.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly + Girls Who Look Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists by Jeannine Atkins

Set in rural Texas in 1899,The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a rich, vivid first-person narrative. Eleven-year-old Callie is headed for a life of corsets, cookery, and needlepoint when she and her grandfather suddenly realize that they are kindred spirits—lovers of the natural world and all its wonders.

As the two spend more time together observing and exploring, Callie’s mother grows concerned. She steps up her efforts to mold her daughter into the perfect young lady. Not wanting to disappoint her mother or her grandfather, Callie struggles to find her identity. The book ends with a magical scene at the dawn of the new century, leaving readers with hope for Callie’s future.

Girls Who Look Under Rocks is a biography collection of women "who found beauty in unlikely places." It features six renowned female scientists who faced and overcame many obstacles in their personal and professional lives. Separate chapters give the reader clear, concise overviews of the childhoods and professional careers of Maria Merian (1647-1717), Anna Comstock (1854-1930), Frances Hamerstrom (1907-1998), Rachel Carson (1907-1964), Miriam Rothschild (1908-2005), and Jane Goodall (1934- ). These compelling stories remind us to encourage the girls around us as they look under rocks, jump into puddles, and gaze in wonder at the starry sky.

Related Activities
Encourage children who enjoy these books to start their own nature journal. They can make simple notes like those in Calpurnia’s notebook or draw and describe bees and butterflies like Maria Merian. They can focus on birds, like the prairie chickens, owls, and eagles Frances Hamerstrom studied, or even pay close attention to the clouds, the moon, a rock, or a favorite tree. For inspiration, you may want to share some of the Good Morning, Maple blog entries, which I post each Monday.

When Calpurnia Tate thought her home town newspaper should list temperatures in the shade as well as in the sun, she wrote a letter to the editor. The editor liked her idea and made the change. Encourage your students to write a letter to the newspaper or town official about something they think should be changed in your community.

All of the women in Girls Who Looked Under Rocks cared deeply aboutthe natural world, but no one worked harder to preserve and protect wildlife and wild places than Rachel Carson. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to figure out the best way to save them. To help your students understand this, share this story:

When a teacher asked her class to write about their experiences with butterflies, one girl wrote about her family’s efforts to kill butterflies. The teacher gave the girl an F.

Ask your students what they would have done if they had been the teacher.

Later, the teacher learned that the girl’s family owned a cabbage farm. Their crop was being devastated by cabbage white butterflies.

Ask your students how they would have reacted if they had been the teacher.

Explain that cabbage white butterflies are invasive species that can wreak havoc in an ecosystem.

Ask your class what they think farmers should do about cabbage white butterflies. Have the studnets do research to fin d out if there are ways to control these harmful invaders without harming native butterfly species.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Behind the Books: Submissions

Today you’re in for a treat. I’ve invited Erin Deedy of Peachtree Publishers to be a guest blogger. Here is her description of the submission process--the same one my book A Place for Butterflies went through in 2001--and some advice for aspiring authors.

Every day, aspiring writers mail their manuscripts to us. Many wonder where exactly the manuscripts go and why it takes months to hear a response. I'm here to tell you.

Step 1: USPS brings us big bins full of mail.

Step 2: The mail is sorted and manuscript submissions are set aside.

Step 3: Manuscripts are stamped with the date they were received and placed in a bin.

Step 4: All manuscripts are moved to the back of the office and filed with the other submissions.

Step 5: Oldest manuscripts are read first. Several months worth of submissions are in front of the newest arrivals.

Step 6: Promising manuscripts are passed on to a senior editor, while manuscripts that won't work for us are sent back with rejection letters. If a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE) isn't included, we send a letter and hold the manuscript for 30 days. This gives the author a chance to send an SASE to get their manuscript back. If no envelope is received, the manuscript is recycled.

Step 7: Every manuscript is logged in once a letter has been sent with the author, address and title info.
It's important to keep in mind that getting a rejection letter from a publisher doesn't mean that you’re a bad writer or that your manuscript isn't any good. Sometimes a submission doesn't appeal to the editor that reads it. Or it may not be a good fit for a publisher’s list.

It’s important to look at a publisher’s catalog before submitting. Does your piece relate to others on their list? I often tell writers to look up publishers in Writers' Market and read submission guidelines before submitting. Knowing who you’re sending things to is very important. For example, we sometimes get submissions for Southern Fiction, because Peachtree originally published in that genre.

If writers had taken the extra step and read our guidelines, they would know that we now publish children's picture books, middle readers and young adult books. In the time it takes us to respond and mail your manuscript back, you could have sent it to a more appropriate publisher. A few more tips:
  • READ! How else will you learn what vocabulary is used for a certain age group, how many pages make up a typical picture book (it's 32, by the way, including copyright page, title page, etc.), or what books are popular right now.
  • If you're submitting a children's picture book, I don't recommend including illustrations, because in the event that a manuscript is acquired, the publisher retains the right to choose an illustrator.
  • If you're submitting a book for older children, don't forget a table of contents, a summery of the book, and at least three sample chapters. An editor wants to know where your story is going, but also get a sense of your writing style.
  • Do not call constantly to check on your manuscript. Give us about six months to respond, then you may call.
  • We know that when a manuscript is sent to us that it is important to the writer. We read every submission and give it the attention it deserves. Peachtree gets approximately 20,000 manuscripts a year, so please be patient.
  • Have someone edit your work before sending it. Be sure that when you mail something it is a complete and final draft.
  • When you include an SASE, make sure that you have enough postage on it and that the envelope is big enough for us to mail your manuscript back.
  • Keep writing. If you are a writer, you will do it no matter what whether you are published or not. The more you write, the better you will get.
  • Keep submitting. I am a firm believer in the idea that a good manuscript will always find a home.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Good Morning, Maple

I was planning to write about bark in today's post, so I headed outdoors for some close-up images of my maple's trunk. But I was quickly distracted from my mission.

The way the light was hitting the tree was so gorgeous that I got carried away. I started snapping photos of the branches in a wild frenzy, just hoping I could capture the loveliness of the light as I saw it with my eyes.
I think this image is pretty successful. Just look at those shinning silvery branches against the pure blue sky. Wonderful.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Fun: Invent an Animal

Check out this fun and educational activity sheet. It’s a perfect compliment for units on weather and animal adaptations. Plus it encourages kids to use their imaginations.

For more activity pages, visit my website.

Have a great February vacation. I’m taking the week off too. Celebrate Science will be back on Monday February 22.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Behind the Books: Tantalizing Titles

For the last few weeks, I’ve gotten so carried away with the individual items on my list that I never finished it. This week I promise to do that. It should be easy because there’s only one more step to add:

1. Get an idea.

2. Do a little market research to see what’s already out there on the topic.
3. If the idea seems viable, do a ton of research.
4. Focus your topic.
5. Consider your audience.
6. Come up with a working title.

I say ”working” because it often changes during the publication process, as editors and marketing people try to figure out how to make the book’s “package” most appealing to readers.

Now you might ask: “Well if the title is probably going to change, why spend time thinking about it?” Good question. Some authors might not, but for me, it’s important because it helps me focus my topic. For more on that, look back to this post.

Sometimes a title is the very first thing that pops into my mind—before I even have a full-fledged idea. But other times, coming up with a title is a real pain in the neck. And, I admit it, sometimes it’s so hard that I just give up and start writing. But even in those cases, all that thinking wasn’t wasted. It has helped me to pinpoint what I want the reader to take away from the book and why.

Good titles let readers know what a book will be about, but great titles also tempt, tease, or titillate. They roll off the tongue, pique curiosity, or are just plain fun.

What third grader wouldn’t want to read The Truth about Poop by Susan E. Goodman or Bugs for Lunch by Margery Facklam?

Older readers are sure to pull books with titles like Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleishman or Bodies from the Bog by James Deem off of library shelves. Titles with words like “secret,” “gruesome,” “poop,” and “mystery” certainly help sell books, but alliteration, rhyming, or unexpected word combinations can also have a big impact.

Here are two of my own titles that I especially like:

What are some of your favorites?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Good Morning, Maple

I’ve been doing some more maple tree research. As I said a few weeks ago, my maple is probably about 45 years old. That’s four years older than me.

But while I’m now entering middle age, the maple tree is just barely an adult. A maple is considered a seedling for about its first 15 years of life. Then it spends another 15 or 20 years as a sapling. At about 30 or 35, the tree finally becomes an adult. Its growth slows, but it never stops entirely.

Some maples live for more than 300 years. So if my tree is lucky, it will still be shading this house long after I’m gone. But the odds are against it. Just like humans and other animals, trees are susceptible to a wide variety of diseases.

Who knows how long my maple will survive. But for now it is strong and healthy, making it a pleasure to watch as it changes through the seasons.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

  • When a spider molts, or sheds its skin, its heart pumps extra blood into the front of its body. The blood pushes on the old skin until it cracks open.
  • In winter, a wood frog’s heart stops beating—for weeks. But the little leaper isn’t dead. The warm days of spring jump-start its heart.
  • A Burmese python needs extra pumping power to digest large prey. Luckily, its heart can bulk up 40 percent in just two days.

  • Pound for pound, seals have up to 50 percent more blood than people. And because a seal’s red blood cells can store more oxygen, they can stay underwater for over an hour. Most people can only hold their breath for about a minute.
  • In some countries, people enjoy eating the hearts of cows, sheep, and pigs. And you can find chicken hearts in some North American grocery stores. Some people say the mighty muscle tastes like a nice, juicy steak, but you might want to stick with PB&J.
Looking for more Gross & Goofy Body facts about the heart and blood? Check out my new book Pump It Up: The Secrets of the Heart and Blood. To find out more about the whole Grosss and Goofy Body series, read this very thorough review from School Library Journal.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Behind the Books: Who’s My Audience?

Last week I got so carried away with the importance of focusing a topic that I didn’t finish my list. Let’s start with a recap:

1. Get an idea.

2. Do a little market research to see what’s already out there on the topic.
3. If the idea seems viable, do a ton of research.
4. Focus your topic.

So what’s next?

5. Consider your audience.

For me, “consider your audience” means knowing what gets kids excited at various ages as well as what the national education standards say they should be learning at each grade level.

I’m not the only one paying attention to curriculum standards. Pull out some catalogs and you’ll see that most books about dinosaurs are written for kids 8 and under. Books about life in colonial America are geared toward readers aged 7 to 9, while books about ancient cultures are usually written for ages 9 to 11. Natural disaster books are most common for readers aged 9 to 12.

It’s certainly true that 12 year olds may feel they’ve outgrown dinosaurs, but couldn’t a 7 year old be interested in volcanoes? Couldn’t some 12 year olds want to read about how the Pilgrims lived or the Boston Tea Party?

Of course they could. But publishing houses are businesses. They know their biggest customers are schools and libraries that cater to schools, so they publish books that complement national education standards.

And if I want a publishing house to publish the books I write, I need to find out when my topic-of-choice is studied in most schools, and then write with that age group in mind.

When I wrote A Place for Butterflies, I targeted early elementary readers because kids usually study butterflies in grades 1 or 2. While I knew most of my book would focus on ways people are protecting butterflies and preserving their habitats, I made sure I included a brief section on the butterfly life cycle. I also included information about their place in the food chain, their differing habitats, and their role in pollination. These are all topics covered in the early elementary curriculum.

And when I wrote Extreme Rocks and Minerals!, I knew students in grades 3 and 4 would make a great target audience. That’s when they’re very interested at really noticing their surroundings and also when they study basic earth science topics.

Young writers don’t have to worry about adhering to curriculum standards, but they should still consider their audience. Are they writing for their teacher or their classmates? Their parents or a younger sibling?

Just as I vary my sentence structure, word choices, and examples depending on the age of my readers, students should think carefully about how to best appeal to the people who will be reading their writing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Good Morning, Maple!

I took this photo at 7:29 this morning. Look at how the sun is just beginning to light up the trees in the background. Isn't that glow lovely?

February is the most overcast month of the year in New England. But on clear, sunny mornings like today, I can really see that the days are starting to get a little bit longer. The sun is rising earlier, and it will set a little bit later.

Daylength changes oscillate like a sin wave, so that there is very little change each day close to the solstices (in December and June), but several minutes of change each day close to the equinoxes (in March and September).
In 2010, the vernal equinox falls on March 20. I'm already counting the days until the first day of spring--and so is my little maple.