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!