Monday, June 20, 2011

Take a Look: A Year in Pictures

For me, summer is a time for family fun, rest and rejuvenation, and, of course, nurturing those fledgling writing projects. To make the most of the precious days of summer, I’ll be taking a break from Celebrate Science. And since tomorrow is the last day of school in my town, this will be my last post until September.

It seems like a good time to look back and reflect, so I’ve put together a fun slide show with some of my favorite school visit photos of the 2010-2011 school year.

Have a great summer. See you back here starting Spetember 7.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Fun: A Meeting of the Minds

If you are a loyal reader of Celebrate Science, you may remember seeing this photo before. But I just can’t help myself. I really love this image of my nephew making a new friend—a Central American stick insect. It seems like the perfect way to launch into summertime fun.
Some schools have already closed their doors for the year, and I’m sure those kids are celebrating. But thanks to a snowy winter, we still have two more days to go.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Behind the Books: Amazing Editors

Last week I gushed about how thankful I am to have a fantastic critique group. But they aren’t the only ones who play an important roll in my writing process. Not by a long shot.

When I visit schools, I tell students that showing my manuscripts to the members of my critique group would be like them exchanging papers with their classmates and asking for some suggestions.

But sending my writing off to my editor is more like them handing in a paper to their teacher. The stakes are a whole lot higher.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with lots of great editors. But the one I talk about most during school visits is Vicky Holifield at Peachtree. Vicky and I have been working together since 2001. So far, we’ve published six books, and we have four more in the works.

Vicky is a mild-mannered editor who always finds the kindest, gentlest way to nudge me and my manuscripts in the right direction. She usually likes to stay behind the scenes, but about a month ago, she sent me this photo so that I could use it in a Power Point presentation I show during school visits.

Since this is my last Wednesday post for the 2010-2011 school year, it seems only appropriate to thank Vicky for her tremendous contribution to so many of my books. Thanks, Vicki! I couldn’t have done it without you.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Take a Look: At a Log

I took this photo back in December while I was in Victoria, British Columbia. I just love the texture of the mosses. If you look closely, you can see three different species (or maybe even genera) growing together in apparent harmony.

It’s just beautiful--a great way to start the week.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

1. The two large spots on a false-eyed frog’s derriere scare away hungry hunters. They think the spots are the eyes of a much larger animal.

2. A blue-ringed octopus’s body has enough poison to kill twenty people. Its colorful spots warn enemies to stay away.

3. The speckles and spots on a chameleon’s skin help the little lizard blend in with its surroundings.

4. When a hippo heats up, pink oil oozes out of its skin. Scientists used to think the massive mammal had worked up a sweat. But it turns out the oil is really built-in sunscreen. It protects hippos from the sun’s sizzling rays. It also keeps their skin soft and washes out cuts.

5. What do whales and walruses, dolphins and seals all have in common? A layer of blubber under their skin. It protect these warm-blooded animals from chilly ocean water.

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Behind the Books: My Critique Group

When I do school visits, I usually present a program with a dual focus. First, we do some games or activities related to the science concepts in the featured book. Then we take a look at the bookmaking process—how I get an idea, how I do research, what I think about as I write the book. I explain that after I complete the writing, many other people get involved. In this sense, creating a book is a team effort, and everyone has an important job to do.

The first people to see my manuscripts is my critique group (seen here with Flat Stanley). We meet twice a month at a local library and give one another feedback. Their thoughts and ideas are invaluable.

No words can express how grateful I am for their contributions. Without their insights, I’d have a whole lot fewer books in print.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Take a Look: My Secret Hideout

It’s warm enough now to start spending some time writing in my secret office. It’s tucked away under a big old Norway spruce in my side yard. Nobody knows I’m there—except the occasional mosquito.

This is a place where I like to throw caution to the wind and experiment on crazy ideas that have been tucked away in my mind—growing, taking shape—for months.
Lots of times what I write here just doesn’t work out as I’d originally imagined. Its permanent home will be in a rarely opened file on some archival disk.

But once in a while, it does work. And it turns into the fodder for one of my most innovative manuscripts. For some reason, I seem to do my best writing right around the two solstices.

Has anyone else noticed that?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Fun: Five Science-sational Jokes

Q: What does a Mexican frog eat for lunch?
A: A mosquito burrito.

Q: What do you call a female termite?
A: A her-mite.

Q: What kind of bug keeps the peace?
A: A cop-roach.

Q: Why don’t centipedes play baseball?
A: By the time the put on their sneakers, the game is over.

Q: How do you tell which end of a millipede is its head?
A: Tickle its middle and see which end laughs.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Behind the Books: Final Thoughts About Structure and Design (For Now)

The best nonfiction books for children begin with an author’s passion for the subject and a clear vision for how to present the material in a fresh, engaging way. Even when two or more authors choose to write about the same topic, each writer will bring his or her own interests, ideas, and imagination to the project. By making decisions about structure and design with care and deliberation, each writer will communicate the content in his or her own special way.

Ultimately, the most successful books will be the ones that present the material in a way that resonates with the largest number of readers.

For example, Mama: A True Story, in Which a Baby Hippo Loses His Mama During a Tsunami, but Finds a New Home, and a New Mama by Jeanette Winters is a nearly wordless picture book with compelling art. A Mama for Owen tells the same story in the form of a more traditional picture book with soft watercolor illustrations. Both are lovely books.

But it was the photo-essay approach of Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu that truly captured the hearts of readers. It was a New York Times bestseller and spawned a whole series of photo-illustrated stories about remarkable animals.

Of course, this charming story of the tortoise and hippo isn’t the only true tale that has intrigued more than one author.

Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai is the central figure of at least four excellent, and yet quite different picture books.
--Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola
--Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter
--Seeds of Change: Wangari's Gift to the World by Jen Cullerton Johnson (illus. Sonia Lynn Sadler)--Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli (illus. Kadir Nelson).

This diversity in approaches to the same nonfiction topic shows that there is no single right way to present ideas, information, or true stories to children. And that is why nonfiction authors are now experimenting with structure and design more than ever before.