Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Fun: Talented Third Graders

A couple of weeks ago, I spent the day at Webster Hill School and had a great time. When I arrived at the library, I was greeted by awesome letters and artwork based on some of the books I've written. Here are a couple of examples.

This one shows a few of the animals from When Rain Falls. It was created by Araisa, Asjha, Ananya, and Mason. The chipmunk is 3-D with a soft, furry coat made from cotton balls. Very clever and cute.

This one shows three scenes from A Place for Birds. Didn't Faith, Lucas, and Chase do a great job?

I'll share some more of the students' great creations next week.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Behind the Books: A Look at Voice, Part 1

Way back in September, I mentioned that nonfiction writing has three key elements: structure, voice, and word choice. At the time, I was focusing on structure, but I promised to discuss voice and word choice at some point. It turns out, today’s the day I’ll share some of my thoughts about voice.

Fiction writers are always thinking about voice. Fiction editors often say what they’re looking for is a character or a narrator with a great, distinctive voice.

Voice. Voice. Voice. What is it?

People have written entire books about voice, but l’m just going to focus on nonfiction voice in this blog. After all, that’s what I write.

In nonfiction writing, voice has three basic components: point of view, style, and tone. Today I’m going to talk about point of view.

There are three points of view to consider: first person, second person, and third person.

I can only think of a couple books for young readers written in the first person. These are memoirs written by teens who have had gone through horrific experiences, such as crystal meth addiction.

Second person point of view is a little more common, but still not the norm. It is used when the author wants to put the reader right into the middle of the action.

Here are a few examples:

Army Ant Parade by April Pulley Sayre
If you awake in a tentunder a green canopy of trees
one morning in Panama,
and all you hear is your heartbeat
and a strange silence,
then you know they are coming.

If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty
You push buttons.
Lights flicker. Machinery whirs.
Rockets fire. Your ship lifts off.
Your heart lifts, too,
but you have thousands of miles
to travel. You just have to be patient.

If You Hopped Like a Frog by David Schwartz
If you hopped like a frog . . .
you could jump from home plate to first base in one mighty leap!

If you were as strong as an ant . . .
you could lift a car.

Most nonfiction books are written in third person point of view. You can find lots of great examples at your local library.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Good Morning, Maple

Wow, wow, and wow. My maple tree has been very busy this week. It's well on its way to being ready for a summer of photosynthesizing. I was so impressed that I went outside to take a picure that shows the entire tree--from the ground to the tippity-top leaves and twigs.

Take a look at how much it has changed in just 7 days, viewed up from ground level:

Here are the four bud leaves I've been watching closely:
I can't wait to see how long if takes for the new leaves to completely open up.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good Morning, Maple

This has been a VERY exciting week for my maple tree. So even though I’m supposed to be taking a break from blogging, I just had to write this post.

By now, it’s plain to see—even from my office window—that the tree's buds are opening to reveal tiny new leaves. Hooray!

I’ve been taking photos of the tree every day, so I can really monitor its progress. Unfortunately, the four buds I’m photographing near the bottom of the tree are major slowpokes. Most of the buds higher up are way ahead of them.

To show the tree’s overall progress, I’ve been taking some photos looking up toward the sky too. On Tuesday, the skyward shots showed a sprinkling of new leaves with many buds still opening.

By Thursday, there was a noticeable change. A leaf was just beginning to emerge from one of the four buds and there was lots of activity higher up.

Here’s how things looked yesterday. The first photo shows all four buds just above my eye level pushing out leaves. Higher up, a good two-thirds of the tree's leaves have emerged.
What a difference a week has made! I’m going to keep watching and photographing the tree. I wonder how things will look next week.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Fun: The Frog Song

Last week, I spoke about using science-themed picture books to create Readers Theater scripts at the Massachusetts Reading Association’s annual conference. At the Just Desserts event that evening, a half dozen children’s book authors each had 5-7 minutes to introduce their newest books.

The performances were wonderfully diverse, from Ian Wallace’s amazing storytelling and the dinosaur skulls Lita Judge showed us to Judith Jango-Cohen's fascinating descriptions of crocodiles and octopuses and Robin Brickman’s demonstration of how she creates cut-paper art.

I read a few pages from A Place for Frogs and then led the group in a frog lifecycle song that I wrote with the help of some totally fabulous second graders.

The attendees asked if the song is on my website. It isn’t yet, but it will be soon. Until then, here it is for everyone to enjoy:

The Frog Song
(To The Tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”)

Eggs, eggs, tiny eggs
That’s how frogs begin.
In a clump, a slimy clump
Floating with their kin.

Swim, swim, swim-y, swim
That’s what tadpoles do.
Eating algae as they grow,

They really like that goo.

Legs, legs, brand new legs
Froglets hop to shore.
Catching flies all day long,
There’s always plenty more.

Chug, chug, chug-a-rum,
Now they are full grown.
They find a mate and lay more eggs
To start a family of their own.

Like you, I’ll be on vacation next week. But I’ll be back on April 26. See you then.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Behind the Books: It’s National Library Week!

As many of you know, Newbery medalist Sid Fleischman recently passed away. During his long career, Sid wrote many wonderful fiction and nonfiction books. Among his nonfiction titles were brilliant biographies of Mark Twain and Harry Houdini. Studying these books has helped to make me a better writer.

But before I was a writer, I was a reader. And I have Sid Fleischman and an astute librarian named Carol Freeborn to thank for that.

As a child, I was labeled a reluctant reader. But Mrs. Freeborn didn’t believe in labels. She knew that a reluctant reader can quickly transform into a voracious reader. All it takes is the right book.

One day she handed me Mr. Mysterious & Company, Sid Fleishman’s first book for children. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I sat down in one of the library’s comfy chairs and started to read while I waited for my dad to come and pick me up.

Simply put, that book had me at hello. Its combination of intriguing setting, quirky characters, and magic grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I loved it. I devoured the book. And as soon as I was done, I turned back to page 1 and read it again. And again. And again.

I checked that book out so many times that Mrs. Freeborn finally told me I could keep it. I still have it today. That’s the power of a great book, and a great librarian. Thank you, Mrs. Freeborn.

For me, the transformative book happened to be fiction. But for some kids, the magical book that opens the doors to a whole new world is nonfiction. How do I know? Because once in a while, I get a letter or email from an adult who tells me the tremendous impact one of my books has had on a child they know.

Like my well-worn copy of Mr. Mysterious & Company, I treasure those notes. They provide tangible evidence that the right book at the right moment can make all the difference. No one knows that better than librarians. That’s why we need them.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Good Morning, Maple

I’ve been watching my maple very carefully for the last week. This is what the tree looks like from inside the house. Not too impressive, right?

Well, take a look at this photo. It's taken from a closer vantage point--directly under the tree. See those tiny buds budding?

The magic of spring is here!

I've never closely monitored a tree leafing out, so I'm really looking forward to the next couple of weeks. Little by little, we're going to see so many changes. As the days grow longer and warmer, my tree—all the trees, in fact—are coming out of their winter dormancy.

My maple tree’s roots are absorbing a new supply of water from all that rain we've been having lately. And as the water moves up, up to the tree’s branches, it brings along a supply of stored carbohydrates. As far as the tree is concerned, they are dee-licious.

The buds are slowly swelling, stretching longer and growing plumper day by day. They are shedding their scaly coats and pushing out and out to greet the world.Soon the tiny new leaves will begin to unfurl. I can’t wait!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday Fun

Wow! Mrs. Zawacki’s fourth grade class in Atlanta, Georgia really rocks! Look at this PowerPoint presentation that they made based on the Readers Theater script I wrote to accompany my book Under the Snow.

I love the sound of their voices and the energy that they all put into saying their lines. It sounds like they’re really having fun.

I have to thank J.L. Bell for suggesting that I write “a little play” to go with an earlier book called When Rain Falls. He came up with the brilliant idea while we were eating dinner with Jacqueline Davies at an SCBWI New England conference a few years ago.

And it was the amazing Toni Buzzeo who took the fledgling idea and helped me get started writing my very first script. Now I’ve written scripts to go with a whole bunch of my books, and more are on the way.

It’s so much fun to see how every class interprets the scripts differently and end up putting on performances that are completely unique. I'm grateful to those kids and to the hard-working teachers and librarians who facilitate the activity.

Happy Friday to you all!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Behind the Books: More Fun in Philly

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days in Philadelphia for this year’s NSTA conference. But one morning, I skipped out on the conference to visit my friend Doug Wechsler.

Doug is the author of lots of great science books for kids, including Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool (Boyds Mills Press, 2006) and Marvels in the Muck: Life in the Salt Marshes (Boyds Mills Press, 2008). I met him during the Green Earth Book Award celebration in 2007.

Doug also has one of the coolest day jobs around. He works at the Academy of Natural Sciences and is in charge of the largest collection of bird photographs in the world! It’s called VIREO, Visual Resources for Ornithology.

So I headed on over to the Academy to see Doug. As you can tell from this photo of me holding a great blue heron's wing and the one of Doug above showing off a wonderful bald eagle specimen, I also got a tour of the Academy’s world-class collection of taxidermic birds.

First I saw dozens of hummingbirds. Their irridescent feathers still reflected light in the most amazing ways. Then we looked at some of the larger birds in the collection, including eagles, osprey, and herons. I was expecially interested in these species because I've created life-size paper models of their wings for a school visit program based on my book A Place for Birds.

I also met Nate Rice, the smart and charismatic scientist who manages the taxidermic collection. He told me about some of the fascinating ways scientists are studying isotopes from this osprey’s wing to get a better sense of migrational patterns as well as molting cycles. Very cool stuff!
Thanks, Doug, for a fantastic morning!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Good Morning, Maple

After seeing all those beetles on my maple tree last week, I’ve been a vigilant observer. And, boy, have my efforts been rewarded!

Can you see the moth in this photo? Its camouflage is amazing.

Look above and a little to the left of the peach-colored lichen. The moth has a fat, fuzzy head and thick, short wings. It is perched diagonally. Its had is facing right and its right wing is just above the lichen.

Do you see it?
It didn’t take me long to come up with a possible identification: a fall cankerworm moth, also known as Alsophila pometaria. Here’s why:

—They live in Massachusetts.
—They overwinter as adults.

—They like maple trees and other hardwoods. And when I say like, what I really mean is they like to eat them. Yikes!

Here's a photo where you can see a fall cankerworm moth more clearly. The wings of this moth look just about right, but then I looked at the head. My moth had a large, fuzzy head. But the fall cankerworm's is pretty puny. And that's good news.

So I kept on searching, and came across this photo. Do you see all three of the sphinx moths in this image? It isn't easy.

These moths are gray and they have fuzzy heads. Their proportions are just right too.

BUT their wings have some black zigzags, and my moth doesn't. So I'm not willing to commit, especially because the sphinx moths I've seen are pretty large. Larger than my moth.
After hours of scouring fields guides and the Internet, I have to admit that I'm stumped.

If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday Fun: Frog Fiesta

Since yesterday was the publication date of my new book, A Place for Frogs, I’ve decided to extend the celebration with two fun-filled froggie activities.

Did you know that a frog’s tongue is about one-third the length of its body. If your tongue was that long, you could use it to clean out your belly button!

Using the sizes listed below, calculate the length of each frog’s tongue.

Pine barrens tree frog: 1 inch

Wood frog: 2 inches

Green frog: 3 inches

Northern leopard frog: 4 inches

Western toad: 5 inches

Bullfrog: 7 inches

Most frogs can jump about twenty times their body length. Using the sizes listed above, calculate how far each species can jump. I think you’ll be surprised by how far some of these frogs can leap in a single bound.

Have fun!