Monday, December 19, 2011

Cool Clouds: In a Minute

When I looked out the window and saw these lovely, low-lying cumulus clouds, I grabbed my camera. But it only took a moment--less than a minute, really--for me to realize they wouldn't be the topic of this post. Well, not exactly.

The most interesting thing I noticed wasn't the clouds themselves. It was how fast they were moving across the sky. 

Using the second hand on my watch, I took these four images at 15 second intervals. See, what I mean? Those clouds are really zipping along.

I listened to our house creak and groan in the blustery breezes all night long. So I guess it's no surprise that the wind is still going strong today.

This series of images is a perfect example of why I'm loving this Cool Clouds blog strand. This is something I never would have noticed--or enjoyed--if I hadn't  been paying extra attention to the world outside my window.

Happy Holidays, Everyone. I'll see you back here in 2012.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Behind the Books: What’s for Dinner?

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading through the books on this year’s National Science Teachers Association-Children’s Book Council Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students. I’ve enjoyed all the books so far, but one really stood out.

I admit that I’m a sucker for science poetry, especially funny science poetry. And readers of this blog know I love gross and goofy science facts. What’s for Dinner?: Quirky, Squirm Poems from the Animal World by Katherine B. Hauth is a book that delivers on both counts.

Here’s a petite appetizer:

“Finding food
is not a joke.
Living things must eat
or croak.”

The book features 29 poems that will make kids laugh out loud as they learn about the food chain, predator-prey relationships, animal defenses, symbiosis and more.

It looks like I’m not the only one who thinks this book is a real treat. The sometimes snarky folks at Kirkus gave What’s for Dinner? a starred review, and NC Teacher Stuff sums up the book's contents nicely: “This book is not for the faint of heart, which makes it perfect for older elementary and middle school students.”

Trust me. This is a book to add to your reading list.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cool Clouds: Take a Look

Nothing but blue skies all around me . . . at least today.

But I also wanted to share a fascinating image that I took last Tuesday or Wednesday.

It was a warm morning and fog blanketed the ground and hung in the air. Look how it showed up in this photo. Pretty cool, isn't it. But it didn't eally look this pink.

Photography is wonderful for capturing what we see most of the time, but sometimes it can't truly reflect the wonders of the natural world. It's a good reminder that Mother Nature is a boundlessly complex and untamable creature.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

  • When something stinks, you use muscles to wrinkle your nose. Muscles inside your nose sniff sweet scents—and nasty ones, too. And when you have a cold, they blow out slimy snot and crusty boogers.
  • When your sister tells a lie, you use muscles to raise one eyebrow. When the sun is too bright, you squint your eyes.
  • When you want to whistle a tune, you purse your lips. Muscles around and inside your mouth help you, too. You use them to talk, chew food, and stick out your tongue.
  • Six muscles work together to move your eyeballs up and down, right and left. And more muscles inside your eyeballs help you see.
  • Dozens of muscles take turns contracting and relaxing to tell other people how you feel. You use them to smile, scowl, and frown; to look scared or surprised; and to make goofy faces.

Looking for more Gross and Goofy Body facts? Check out my book Moving and Grooving: The Secrets of Muscles and Bones. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Behind the Books: Festival of Trees

I have fantastic news. My book Under the Snow has been included in this year’s Family Trees Festival at the Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts.

A group of ladies from the Concord Council on Aging got together and sewed all kinds of wonderful animal ornaments for the tree.

Take a look. There’s a fish, a turtle, a beaver, a hibernating chipmunk and lots of ladybugs.

The tree looks even better in person than it does in these photos.

If you live in the Concord area, you can see my tree and about two dozen others until the end of the year. On December 15 from 5-8 p.m., a bunch of local authors will be at the museum talking about or books and signing copies.

Stop by if you can. And bring your kids. They’ll be mesmerized.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cool Clouds: More Warm, Fair Days

I can’t remember a year when it’s been so consistently warm this late in the year. Most days still boast temperatures in the high 40s or 50s. The gorgeous cumulus clouds outside my window today are harbingers of more warm, fair days.

I’d like to say winter in New England just doesn’t get better than this. But the scientist in me is getting worried. Cold temperatures kill deer ticks and other creepy crawlies that cause a lot of trouble.

And that’s not all. Hardy New England trees can endure unseasonably warm winters from time to time, but not if warm winters become the norm. They need cold days to bud and leafout properly in spring.

Overtime, warm winters will kill the trees—not to mention all the creatures that depend on them. And since I’m one of those people who likes to breathe about 20 times a minute, I’m pretty fond of all the oxygen the trees around me provide.

Besides, if we don't get snow on our rooftops by December 25, Santa won't be able to land his sleigh.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Behind the Books: Books for Sale

I spent Saturday on Cape Cod, selling books at the Dennis-Yarmouth Women’s Club Holiday Fair.

Boy, do those ladies know how to put on a show! It was one of the most organized events I’ve seen in a long time, and shoppers showed up in droves.

I was very lucky to have a table close to the door, so everyone passed by me when they still had plenty of money in their pockets. That was a good thing for me because there were all kinds of fabulous crafters and artisans selling their wares, from jewelry and pottery and quilts to Christmas tree ornaments to homemade jams and some wonderful soaps that made the whole room smell wonderful.

It was a fabulous day. I met some great people, sold lots of books, and of course, I couldn’t resist doing some of my own holiday shopping.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cool Clouds: A Hint of Blue

Today we have a sky full of stratocumulus clouds with a promising triangle of blue off in the distance. Most of the time, these clouds don’t produce any rain. But they can be a sign of gusting winds in the near future.

Looks like we may be in for a blustery day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Behind the Books: Quarantined Kindergarteners

Over the last ten years, I’ve done plenty of live, in-person school visits. And in the last couple of years, I’ve gotten the hang of Skype school visits. But recently I did something completely new.

See all those empty chairs on the left of the photo? Those seats were supposed to be filled with kindergarteners.

See the screen behind the student performers? It’s bursting with eager kindergarteners. They’re Skyping us from down the hall.

Sound crazy? Here’s the deal. The day before my visit, a couple of kindergarteners were diagnosed with pneumonia. So the entire kindergarten was under quarantine. Those poor kids couldn’t leave their classroom, and I couldn’t go in. But thanks to the magic of technology, the clever teachers at Hampstead Academy came up with a solution.

Because I’ve Skyped before, I thought I could handle this. But there were a few surprises. The biggest one was that the first and second graders in the room with me missed their kindergarten friends. And it was so exciting to see them on the screen. So all through my program, they kept saying hi and waving to each other.

I tried to stop them.

Their teachers tried to stop them.

Even the principal tried to stop them.

But what can I say, the temptation was just too great. They technology was too exciting. They couldn’t stop themselves. But after a while, the novelty wore off or maybe I was so engaging they managed to focus on the presentation.

It was a fun—and educational—day, and that’s my favorite kind.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone. I'll be back on Monday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cool Clouds: Wow!

Wow, look at those beautiful clouds crisscrossing the sky! It’s photos like this that make me remember why I started this project—so I’d pay more attention to the world around me.

If I hadn’t looked out the window because I knew I needed an image for my blog, I probably would have missed this amazing morning sky. I’m glad I didn’t.

So what kind of clouds are these? Good question. And I’m not sure I have an answer.

They look cirrus-y, but some of them are much too low to be cirrus. I’m guessing they’re a combination of cirrus and cirrostratus. But there might also be some altocumulus thrown in there. I need a cloud expert.

Or maybe I don’t. Maybe for today, I’ll be satisfied by just enjoying their beauty. Naming things can help us understand them, but we won’t care about understanding them if we don’t take the time to celebrate their wonder.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

  • Sneezing is your nose’s way of ousting irritating invaders—like pepper, dust, germs, and even itty-bitty bugs. It’s just one of many built-in defense systems that protects your delicate insides and keeps you healthy. Your body’s other dutiful defenders include earwax, vomit, boogers, and spit.
  • Don’t worry if your pet iguana sneezes. It’s just getting rid of extra salts that have built up inside its body.
  • Each sneeze thrusts about 40,000 tiny droplets of spit and snot out of your body. The spray explodes out of your nose and mouth at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and may travel as far as 30 feet. It’s a quick, easy way to get irritating invaders out of your body.
  • When Donna Griffiths was twelve years old, she started sneezing. And she didn’t stop for almost 3 years! Doctors estimate that she sneezed more than 300,000 times in a row.

  • When you cough, air bursts out of your body at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour. Sometimes people cough so hard that they break one of their ribs.

  • Looking for more Gross and Goofy Body facts? Check out my book Germ Wars: The Secrets of Fighting Invaders. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.


    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Behind the Books: Doing a Happy Dance

    Look where you can find my three fall titles—in this awesome display now at 700 Barnes & Noble stores across the country. Woo-hoo!

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Cool Clouds: Sensational Cirrus

    These are the first cirrus clouds I’ve photographed as part of the Cool Clouds project. So I was more than ready to plunge into research mode.

    It turns out cirrus is a Latin word that means “curling lock of hair.” I’m not sure of cirrus clouds really resemble ringlets of hair, but I guess someone thought they do.

    We see cirrus clouds when tiny water droplets form high in the atmosphere—above 16,500 feet to be exact.

    Lots of cirrus clouds can mean the weather is about to change, usually for the worse. But random, scattered cirrus clouds like the ones out my window aren’t much use in weather forecasting.

    Oh well. They’re still lovely.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Behind the Books: Thinking About Habitats

    I’ve been thinking a lot about habitats lately. One of my favorite hiking spots features two very different habitats—a woodland and a pond—and each one has provided a special experience that eventually led to a book.

    So today I’m going to share a video about that very special place and a list of some of my favorite children’s book about habitats.

    I See a Kookaburra: Discovering Animal Habitats Around the World—Steve Jenkins and Robin PageLike all of Jenkins’s books, this one offers a combination of glorious cut paper collages and clear, concise text. It also has a fun, interactive game-like quality that invites participation. I See a Kookaburra introduces children to six of the world’s habitats and some of the animals that live in them. As an added challenge, and to make the point that ants live all over the world, one of these insects is hidden in each scene. Rich backmatter with maps rounds out the presentation. School Library Journal calls the book “A first-rate foray into ecology that will encourage readers to explore the world around them,” and I couldn’t agree more.

    One Small Place in a Tree—Barbara Brenner
    Some habitats are huge—a savanna, a forest, an ocean, but this book celebrates the wonders of a hidden microhabitat—a hole in a tree. As a bear sharpens her claws on a tree trunk, she unknowingly begins a chain of natural events that, over time, form a tree hole home for a menagerie of forest creatures, from salamanders and tree frogs to a family of white-footed mice. Lyrical prose and highly detailed, realistic illustrations bring the world beneath the bark to life for young readers.

    The Salamander Room—Anne Mazer (illus Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher)The Salamander Room is a gentle tale with an important message. A boy finds a salamander in the woods and asks his mom if he can keep it. Instead of saying “no,” she asks him questions that encourage him to think about what the salamander needs to survive and, ultimately, to realize on his own that he cannot create an adequate home for the salamander in his bedroom. Lush, shadowy paintings perfectly capture the mood of the boy’s increasingly elaborate plans for transforming his room into a suitable habitat for the little amphibian.

    Redwoods—Jason Chin
    Clear, straightforward text provides wonderfully detailed information about redwoods and the microhabitats they support. But the art offers more—pure magic. It gives readers a peek into the imagination of a boy reading a book about towering redwood trees. The journey begins in a New York City subway car, but transports the boy—and the readers—into a redwood forest where climbing gear appears at just the right moment, allowing readers to scale a giant tree and take a look around. It’s not often that a picture book shares fascinating science content and simultaneously promotes curiosity and fosters imagination, but this book does it all.

    The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest—Lynne Cherry
    In this breathtakingly beautiful picture book, a man falls asleep while chopping down a kapok tree in a Brazilian rainforest. As he naps, a variety of forest creatures and finally a child whisper in his ear, explaining why the trees and the forest is so important. When the man awakens, he gets up and goes home without completing his task. Thus, the book shows readers the lushness and beauty of the forest habitat and explains its importance in a way that will resonate strongly with children. Rich, vivid endpapers include a map of the world's tropical forests and the amazing array of Amazon wildlife.

    Song of the Waterboatman and Other Pond Poems—Joyce Sidman (illus Beckie Prange)
    This collection, illustrated with striking woodcuts, features science facts combine with vivid poems about pond life through the seasons. Focusing on one pond creature or plant per spread, Sidman employs a variety of age-appropriate poetic forms to bring the habitat and its inhabitants to life for readers. The poems will certainly engage children, and the rich prose sidebars are chockful of background information sprinkled with fascinating tidbits. After reading this elegant, inspiring title, children will be begging for a field trip to the nearest pond, so they can see nature’s wonders for themselves.

    Frog in a Bog—John Himmelann
    This cleverly conceived circular story begins with a frog jumping off a fern and ends with a frog (presumably the same little critter) jumping back onto a fern. In between, readers follow a chain of events that introduces young readers to wetland inhabitants and clearly explains their interdependence. Accurate, detailed watercolors show the bog and its residents in their true glory, and field guide-like backmater will encourage young explorers to observe and identify at the animals living in nearby wetlands.

    Hotel Deep: Light Verse from Dark Water—Kurt Cyrus
    Engaging poetic text and lavish, detailed paintings plunge readers into the amazing world below the ocean’s wavy surface. As we follow a lost sardine searching for its companions, we are treated to one glorious underwater scene after another. Some creatures hide and others hunt, simultaneously introducing readers to predator-prey relationships and adding a sense of drama to the book. A thumbnail picture-glossary identifies about two-dozen ocean creatures. This is a great read-aloud title and a perfect choice for introducing a unit on the ocean.

    One Night in the Coral Sea—Sneed B. Collard (illus Robin Brickman)
    Coral reefs are one of the ocean’s most critical habitats, so it’s great to see a book that gets down to the bottom of it all, describing the lifecycle and behaviors of coral animals in detail. Brickman’s colorful three-dimensional artwork add wonderful textured layers to the coral-reef scenes. Try pairing this book with Colorful Captivating Coral Reefs by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent for even more amazing information about the cast of characters that call coral reefs home.

    On Meadowview Street—Henry Cole
    In this wonderful story, author-illustrator Henry Cole introduces us to curious, clever Caroline, a young girl who’s destined to become a scientist. Caroline wonders why her new home is on Meadowview Street, when there isn’t a meadow in sight. So when she spots a lone wildflower in her lawn, she asks her dad to mow around it and he does. Soon, her one-flower nature preserve has expanded to include the entire back yard. Then following Caroline’s lead, neighbors transform their yards too. Cole’s spare text and tender, acrylic paintings team up to tell the lovely story blooming with simplicity and energy.

    Do you have your own favorite habitat book?

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    Cool Clouds: Contrails and Maples

    You can see glistening sunlight in this picture. And a bright blue sky. And the edge of a golden-leaved maple tree. But do you see a cloud?
    Yes! As luck would have it, as I snapped this photo a plane was cruising across the sky, leaving behind a contrail. A contrail is a cloud—a stream of water vapor produced by exhaust from an aircraft’s engines. When the hot exhaust gases come into contact with the much cooler air, they condense into tiny water droplets and form a temporary cloud trail. Pretty cool.


    I made sure to get just the edge of my maple in the contrail photo because I really want to talk about it today. Despite the terrible storm last week, the tree (left) still has most of its leaves.

    I thought I remembered the tree losing it’s leaves right around Halloween, so I went back to my archive to find a photo of the tree from 2009 (below). That tree is almost bare.
    The tree started to turn yellow at the same time both years. That means the tree is holding on to its leaves longer this year. I wonder why. Does it know something we don’t about the winter to come?

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    Friday Fun: Wonders of Nature

    During a recent hike through the swamp shown above, I spotted the beautiful little mushroom shown below. Isn’t it lovely?

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Behind the Books: Inside Lightning

    My third fall title in the Inside series is Inside Lightning. Like its companion titles Inside Volcanoes and Inside Earthquakes, this book had a long and winding path to publication.

    Originally, I proposed a book on wildfires. Then the publisher suggested a book on tsunamis instead. But finally, when all three titles became part of the Inside series, we agreed on lighting as a topic. And I’m really happy about that decision.

    I’ve never written about lightning before, so I learned a lot during the research process. But my favorite part of the book is an interview I conducted with the two people who brought me into this world—my parents.

    When I was just a toddler (and sound asleep), my parents both saw a lightning ball inside out house.

    Here’s their story as it appears in the book:
    “I saw a bluish-white ball of light float in through the open living room window,” said Dorothy. “It was the size of a basketball, and it blew a light bulb in a nearby lamp. My skin tingled as it slowly drifted to the middle of the room. Then it dropped toward the floor and disappeared.”

    Bruce was in the basement. “I saw it come down through the ceiling almost right in front of my face. It didn’t make a hole or burn anything, but it did blow an overhead light. Then it slowly bobbed and floated across the room and faded away.”

    Pretty spooky, huh? I wish I had seen it.

    Inside Lightning even includes a photo of my parents in front of the house where I grew up. Obviously, that’s my favorite part of the book, but there’s lots of other great stories and information, too. And I really love the cover.

    And now the best news of all. Inside Lightning  got a starred review in yesterday's issue of Booklist. Woo-hoo!

    Monday, October 31, 2011

    Cool Clouds: What a Weekend

    So here are the clouds yesterday morning. They look friendly enough, right? Lots of blue sky. A little cumulus action. And indeed, it was a beautiful sunny day.

    But the previous 24 hours were quite different. A surprise October snow and ice storm was hard on our trees, especially my favorite maple.

    And look at our driveway. A tree landed on my husband's car, but miraculously, it did no damage. Seriously. Not even a scratch.

    We lost our electricity for about 36 hours, but it's back now. And hopefully our phone service will be working again soon. What a weekend!

    Friday, October 28, 2011

    Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

    • Messages travel along your nerves at up to 200 miles per hour.

    • Most of your cells live a few hours, days, or weeks. But some brain cells last a lifetime—and that’s lucky for you. Once they’re gone, you can’t replace them.

    • When nerves get squashed, they can’t send messages to your brain. And your foot “falls asleep.” When you stand up, your foot will tingle. It might even burn. But in just a few seconds, everything will be back to normal.

    • Whenever you run a race, jump rope, or ride your bike, you’re boosting your brainpower. After exercising, your mind is more settled. You feel better, and you can focus your attention more easily.

    • For thousands of years people all over the world thought the heart—not the brain—was the center of thoughts and feelings. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the American brain surgeon Wilder Penfield discovered which areas of the brain control each part of our bodies.
      Looking for more Gross and Goofy Body facts? Check out my book You’ve Got Nerve: The Secrets of the Brain and Nerves. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    Behind the Books: Ups and Downs and Ups

    Last week I started telling the story of a series Mary Kay Carson and I began working on in 2007, before it was postponed indefinitely. So what happened?

    Finally, after three years of waiting (not so patiently), we got the good news/bad news email. The good news was that the books would be published and had even be scheduled. The “bad” news was that they would be published as part of a newly conceptualized series.

    But as far as we were concerned, it was doubly good news. Because the new series would have gatefolds. How cool is that?

    And there was even more good news. Our editor had returned, and would pick up where she had left off.So I delved into the research and planning stages of the project.

    But guess what--it turns out writing a 48-page book with four vertical gatefolds and three horizontal gatefolds is a big challenge conceptually and organizationally.

    Almost every spread has a page that folds up or out. Vertical photos or diagrams or features or tables are perfect for vertical gatefolds, but not so good for horizontal ones. So coming up with an outline involves much more than understanding the scientific concepts backward and forward, inside and out. I also had to constantly and carefully think about how readers will interact with the final book. I love new challenges, but honestly, there were some frustrating moments when it seemed like the books would never come together.

    But finally they did. Inside Volcanoes and Inside Earthquakes were written, laid out, proofed endlessly, and finally made it to the printers. But then, there was another snafu. A major quake struck Japan in March 2011, and the marketing folks really wanted to add it to the book.

    So Inside Earthquakes was pulled back and we quickly changed the very first gatefold image to highlight the recent quake. We also tweaked the text here and there to include mentions of it as appropriate. Then it went back to the printer and w all hoped there wouldn’t be another big quake too soon.

    And now they’re finally out, and they look really great.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Cool Clouds: Cloud Quiz

    Once again, we have some fine stratus clouds blanketing the sky. But look closely. They have a bit of a puff. That's a signal that they might break up and become cumulus clouds surrounded by lovely blue sky.

    That brings to mind an interesting fact I recently came across. I've presented it here as a quiz. Let's see how you do?

    Q: True or False? About 50 percent of all clouds produce rain.
    A: False. Actually, only 10 percent of all clouds shower down on us.

    Surprised? I was.

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    Friday Fun: Autumn Outings

    The Maine coast is lovely any time of year, but I especially like it in autumn. Brisk, crisp chilly days are perfect for walking along rocky shorelines.

    I had fun skipping sea-smoothed stones like the ones in this photo. Aren't their colors absolutely amazing.

    I found all kinds of treasures on the beach, including this nearly perfect sea urchin.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Behind the Books: Fingers Crossed

    Way back in 2007, my friend and fellow nonfiction author Mary Kay Carson and I developed a proposal for a group of disaster/weather books at the request of a major publisher. She would write boosk about about tornadoes, hurricanes, and blizzards. I would write books about about volcanoes, earthquakes, and either wildfires (my idea) or tsunamis (the publisher’s idea).

    The proposal included some great, innovative elements, such as stand-alone interviews with survivors and scientists working in related fields; storytelling through detailed diagrams and dramatic images with extended captioning; and profiles of major storms/eruptions/quakes in history. We were very excited. And so was the publisher.

    Mary Kay and I signed contracts, received the first half of our advances, and then—Nope, we didn’t get down to work. Instead, the publisher asked us to put on the breaks. They wanted to re-think their future direction.

    Uh-oh! I’ve heard talk like that before, and it’s usually bad news. Very bad--especially because a recession was looming.

    So we waited and we waited and we waited. We wondered if the series would be cancelled. We wondered if we’d have to return our advances. We wondered if we’d ever get to write the cool books we had in mind

    Then we found out our editor had left and gone to another publisher. Double uh-oh!

    So what finally happened? You’ll find out next week.

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    Cool Clouds: Sort of

    Okay, I admit it. Yesterday was such a busy day that I forgot to take a picture of the clouds outside my office window. Rats!

    But luckily, I came up with a soltution.

    As many of you know, I've been playing around with video production lately. And my latest creation is a compilation of photos showing the seasonal changes of the maple tree outside my office window. I featured these photos on the Monday strand of this blog in 2009-2010.

    But guess what. The photos show more than just the tree. They show the sky--and the clouds--throughout the year. Ah-ha!

    Seriously, pay attention to the sky in these photos. In some of them, the light is absolutely lovely. Enjoy!

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

    • What does a flame-broiled burger have in common with a tender pork chop and a chicken nugget? They’re all made of the same thing—muscle.
    • Caterpillars use more than four thousand rippling muscles to wriggle along.
    • The hagfish is a gruesome predator. It uses its strong tongue muscles to bore holes into other fish. Then it eats the helpless victims from the inside out.
    • A sloth uses its super strong arm and leg muscles to dangle from tree branches. As long as the shaggy-coated creature stays silent and still, it’s hard to spot.
    • When babies are born, they can’t control their bladder muscles. That’s why they have to wear diapers.

    Looking for more Gross and Goofy Body facts? Check out my book Moving and Grooving: The Secrets of Muscles and Bones. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Behind the Books: More Video Fun

    When I started making videos over the summer, I had a list of possible topics. I noticed that people seemed to be very interested in seeing images of my office. Last year’s blog entry about my office has had more hits than almost any other post. So I added “Office Tour” to my list.

    And one of my first ventures into filming involved walking around my office and describing my work space. It was okay. I thought it might work for people who were interested, but I thought it needed a little bit more life.

    I decided to show my original footage to my two nieces, ages 7 and 9, and here was the result:

    They did a much better job than I ever could. Thanks girls!!

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Behind the Books: Swirl by Swirl

    Joyce Sidman’s new book Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature was just released yesterday, but—thanks to Vicki Palmquist of Winding Oak—I was lucky enough to score an ARC.

    As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a big (okay, huge) fan of Joyce Sidman’s work. I love Song of the Waterboatman and Dark Emperor, so I was really looking forward to this book.

    But I was surprised the moment I saw the book—it’s square. Sidman's other natural history books have taller, more rectangular trim sizes. And I was a little bit disappointed when I first opened the book. No wonderful, rich sidebars full of great information. In fact, the book had very little text at all. Just 177 words. Yup, I counted.

    Sure, what was there was signature Sidman—just beautiful. But shouldn’t there be more? This just wasn’t what I expected.

    But because I trust Sidman, and because I know myself, I put the book away to give myself time. I had to wipe all my preconceived ideas about what the book would, could, should be out of my mind. I had to come back to the book with fresh eyes and an open mind.

    So a few days later, at a quiet moment on my favorite couch in the sun room, I opened the book again. And I delved in. I looked at what the book is--not what it isn't.

    What is it? Delightful. Gorgeous. A powerful celebration of spirals and spiraling in nature. The lovely language is perfectly in synch with Beth Krommes amazing woodcuts. In fact, a close examination shows that even the text has its own spiraling structure, slowly unfurling and wrapping iself up tight again. Amazing!

    And this time, I found a treat at the end of the book—backmatter. It wasn’t as extensive as the Sidman sidebars I’m used to. But it did extend the book and would help young readers make connections.

    Later, I discovered that Sidman and Krommes worked on this book together from the start. And that might be why the text seems very much like a tribute to the art. So it’s a different kind of book, but it’s still absolutely wonderful.

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Cool Clouds: It’s Raining

    It’s interesting to compare last week’s stratus clouds (which didn’t produce rain) to yesterday’s stratus clouds (which did produce rain). See how yesterday’s clouds are more of a flat, continuous blanket of gray?

    I’ll have to remember this difference the next time I’m trying to decide whether I should wear my raincoat.