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.


  1. Thanks for the pair-up, Melissa! I love Calpurnia's notes on insects. And the mention of Mary Anning!

    Gosh, an F on ANY paper just hurts. I hope your young researchers can find some great answers to achieving balance.

  2. Yes, Mary Anning too! I guess it's fair to say that many of the ideas that prcolate through your books are in synch with the themes in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. I bet you and Jacqueline Kelly would have lots to talk about.



  4. Yes, Darcy, you are right. You could pair both of these boos with Something Out of Nothing. Marie Curie is one of the female scientists mentioned in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Thanks for sharing this title.