Monday, February 28, 2011

Take a Look: Surprise!

After about six weeks of two solid snowstorms per week, the last couple of weeks lured me into the false notion that spring was well on its way. We had some 50 degree days and lots of melting.

Okay, it wasn’t all a bed of roses. We did get some water in the basement when one of the gutters got clogged with ice. But I had fun engineering a way to divert the water out to the driveway. I even got to dig in the dirt with my bare hands. The soil was so cold my fingers got numb, but . . . oh, the heavenly smell of that fresh dark earth was well worth it.

But then reality hit. We had a little bit of snow on Friday. And a little more on Saturday. And six inches of the white fluffy stuff on Sunday. Sure it’s pretty, but my maple tree and I are ready for spring. Aren’t you?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

1. When a cat pounces on prey, its whiskers move forward to form a net in front of its mouth. The web of whiskers helps the hunter keep track of its meal.

 2. A walrus’s whiskers comb the muddy seafloor in search of clams, snails, and other tasty treats.

3. Seals use their whiskers to sense the movement of fish.

4. The whiskers on a squirrel’s ankles help it avoid bumping into branches as it jumps from tree to tree.

5. Some bats have whiskers on their butts. Yup, their butts! The bristly hairs help the nighttime fliers land in tight spaces.

Looking for more Gross & Goofy Body facts? Check out my book Here We Grow: The Secrets of Hair and Nails. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.

 Next week is school vacation here in Massachusetts, so I’ll be taking a break. Have a great week!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Behind the Books: More Science Poetry for Kids

2010 was a banner year for Joyce Sidman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published two new science poetry volumes by her. Ubiquitous came out early in the year, and Dark Emperor snuck in at the end—just in time to win a Newbery honor.

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors was a very ambitious project that literally spanned billions of years and described some of the hardiest critters to ever call Earth home. Here’s my favorite poem from that collection.

Gecko on the Wall
Her jaws dart out
     to crunch up flies.
Her tongue flicks up
     to wipe her eyes.

She climbs up walls
     with eerie cries.

Her tail comes off:
     a wriggling prize

She sprints and leaps
     And slinks and spies . . .

Don’t you wish you were a gecko?

Just like the Caldecott committee, I fell in love with Sidman’s Song of the Waterboatman when it was released in 2005. And I was absolutely thrilled when a Booklist reviewer suggested pairing it with my book Under the Snow.

Because I had read that Dark Emperor was mean tto be a companion title to Song of the Waterboatman, I came to the new book with some hesitation. How could it possibly live up to my expectations?

Well, I’m pleased to report that I love, love, love Dark Emperor too. In fact, it’s impossible for me to choose a favorite poem to share with you. You’ll just have to get a copy of the book and read it from cover to cover. You’ll be entranced by “Night-Spider’s Advice” and laugh at the irresistible cuteness of “I Am a Baby Porcupette.” You also won’t want to miss “Cricket Speaks” or “Bat Wraps Up.”

Can you think of other delightful collections of science poetry?

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Day Treat

Normally I'd post something like this on a Friday, but since today is February 14 . . .

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Fun: A Perfect Pair

These appealing books correlate strongly with early elementary curriculum standards. They describe where snails live and discuss their daily habits and activities.

The Snail’s Spell by Joanne Ryder + Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell

In The Snail’s Spell (Puffin, 1988), captivating, detailed illustrations and gentle text written in the second person invite readers to imagine themselves as a snail and experience the world—a garden teeming with wildlife--from that creature’s perspective.

Illustrated with stunning, close-up photographs, Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator (Boyds Mills Press, 2008) follows the real-life adventures of a wolfsnail as it stalks prey, avoids an enemy, and finally falls asleep. Clear, simple text relays a survival story that encourages young readers discover the wonders of nature in their own backyards.

Discussion Questions
• Ask students what the books have in common. [Both are about snails and take place in a familiar backyard setting.]

• How are the books different? [One book is illustrated with paintings and asks readers to uses their imaginations; the other features photos taken by the authors]

• Discuss what makes one book fiction and one nonfiction.

• Review the definitions of “predator” and “prey”. Are snails plant eaters or meat eaters? [They can be either.]

Related Activities
• Materials: Notebook, pencilWhen the weather is appropriate, take your students out to the playground and encourage them to look for snails and other small creatures. Have them draw and describe what they find in a nature journal. When you go back indoors, ask students to share their journal entries. Encourage students to repeat this activity at home or at a local park.

 • Take your class outside to play Predators and Prey. Choose one child to be the wolfsnail (predator). He or she should stand in the middle of the field. The other children (prey) must run to the other end of the field without getting eaten (tagged) by the wolfsnail. Have students keep track of how much prey the predator eats during each round.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Behind the Books: Science Poetry for Kids

Think science and poetry don’t go together? Think again. There are some wonderful science-themed true poetry books for kids from pros like Joyce Sidman to wonderfully lyrical, poetic texts by April Pulley Sayre. For the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing some of my favorites.

The first book, the Newberry-award winner Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman, was published back when I was in college. A wonderful librarian in Acton, MA, introduced me to the collection of poems in two voices several years ago. It’s a wonderful way to inspire upper elementary and middle school students.

A more recent favorite is Volcano Wakes Up! by Lisa Westberg (illus Steve Jenkins). This collection of pomes are written from five points of view—the volcano, ferns, lava crickets, a road, and the sun/moon. Each “voice” is represented by a different style of poem. For example, the volcano’s thoughts are always presented to us as shape poems. Here’s an example:

                      Hey! It’s a little
                     quiet around here.
              It’s time to kick up a lot of
      dust and ash, time to shake the ground
And make a big stink. Watch this, everybody!

A brand new book I’m excited about is At the Sea Floor CafĂ©: Odd Ocan Critter Poems by Leslie Bulion (illus. by Leslie Evans). It was just released and it does indeed feature some strange and starting sea creatures. Here’s the poem I like best:

Invasion of the Bone Eaters
Osedax, the legless worm,
Lands on whale-fall, digs in firm,
Eyeless, mouthless, gills like plumes,
Bone-devouring zombie blooms.

Osedax, the gutless wonder,
Egg sac blob and roots down under.
Dines with help of fat bacteria,
At the whalebone cafeteria.

I’ve read a lot about the recently discovered Osedax. It’s a truly fascinating creature, and the author really captures its wonder and mystery in a fun poem that’s full of little surprises.

I'll share some more of my favorites next week. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Take a Look: Snowed Out

I know I'm supposed to be taking a look at the wonders around me here and now, but I just can't help looking forward to sunny summer days.

This photo shows what I dream of doing, hour after hour, with my nephew and the other kids in my life:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

  1. Most adult noses run between 1 and 2 inches (2.5 and 5 centimeters) long, but the world’s hugest honker is nearly 3.5 inches (9 cm) long. It belongs to Mehmet Ozyurek of Turkey.
  2. In just one day most people produce enough snot to fill a 1-liter soda bottle.
  3. Most people can smell between three thousand and ten thousand different odors, but they don’t always agree on what smells good and what smells bad. Ever caught a whiff of a skunk’s stinky spray? You probably wanted to gag. But some people don’t mind the scent at all.
  4. Right now, the two sides of your nose aren’t taking in equal amounts of air. And they aren’t smelling in exactly the same way. When the left side of your nose is inhaling lots of air, your right side is taking a break. And when the right side of your nose picks up its pace, your left side gets to relax.

  5. When you breathe normally, as little as 2 percent of the air you inhale passes over the postage-stamp-size area in your nose where smelling occurs.
Looking for more Gross & Goofy Body facts? Check out my book Up Your Nose: The Secrets of Schnozes and Snouts. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Behind the Books: Kids Love Facts

For the last few weeks, I’ve been discussing narrative nonfiction and the role storytelling techniques can play in engaging readers and bringing people, situations, and settings to life for young readers. But as popular and successful as narrative nonfiction is, it’s only one subset of children’s nonfiction.

We can’t forget about the more straightforward, expository books. Why? Because kids love them. The grosser the better. The goofy-er the better. The weirder and wackier the better, better, better.

Are readers really going to retain all those amazing, unusual, and surprising facts? For the most part, no. (Actually, you’ll be surprised what a child fascinated by a subject can remember.) But that’s okay. Remembering every detail, every stat isn’t really the goal of these books—at least not in my opinion.

First of all, we want to get kids reading. Studies show it doesn’t really matter what they read as long as they read. It’s a critical skill that can be directly linked to a child’s educational and financial success in life. For many kids, these are the books they want to read. They don’t much care about story lines. They care about increasing their knowledge of all the world has to offer. And that’s what these books provide in spades.

Second of all, even if kids don’t remember each and every fact, they will remember the overall point of these books. The world is an amazing, mystifying, fascinating place. It’s worth a closer look. It’s worth exploring. That’s an important message for kids—especially in a time when they are spending less and less time outdoors and less and less time unscheduled.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the message underlying all my books—no matter how they are written. And it’s a message that I whole-heartedly believe is important enough to dedicate my life to.