Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Behind the Books: Going Batty

Tomorrow, March 1, is the publication date for A Place for Bats, a book dedicated to my youngest niece at her insistence.

I’m not planning to do any bookstore signings with this book. But I will do some radio interviews and library presentations. Plus, I've spent a lot of time developing some great materials for teachers, homeschoolers, librarians, and booksellers.

Here’s a link to some fun activity pages for this new book as well as some of my other titles. Enjoy!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cool Clouds: Sunset

So far all of the photos I’ve posted on this blog strand have been taken in the morning. My office window faces southwest, in the afternoon, the bright blazing sun makes photography impossible. But today, I’m featuring an image taken just as the sun is setting. Lovely, isn’t it?

I had to pause for a moment and admire this low lying cluster of cumulus clouds shimmering, glowing as the sun slowly slides below the horizon.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

1. Your brain is the size of a large grapefruit, and it’s shaped sort of like a head of cauliflower. Its surface is wrinkled like a walnut, and it feels soft and squishy, like a lump of warm butter.

2. Your brain is connected to 30,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) of nerves that snake through your body like strings of licorice. They carry millions of messages to and from your brain every second—even when you’re asleep.

3. No computer on Earth is as powerful as your brain. It sends out about 6,000,000,000,000 messages every minute. And it can store up to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bits of information. Not bad for a 3-pound (1.4-kilogram) lump that’s 78 percent water and 10 percent fat!

4. The world-famous physicist Albert Einstein died in New Jersey in 1955. A doctor removed his brain so people could study it. But the brain got lost. Someone finally found it in a cooler in Kansas in 1978.

5. Which uses up more energy—running a race or taking a test? Seem like a no-brainer? Don’t answer too fast. Your brain uses up to 25 percent of the nutrients you get from food.

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.

Have a great vacation week. I'll be back on February 27.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Behind the Books: School Visit Season

I’ve been doing school visits for more than a decade and I’ve seen some big changes over the years. Up until about 5 years ago most schools preferred to hire fiction authors. But now, my friends who write fiction are complaining that school visit invitations are few and far between.

My experience has been just the opposite, I’ve been doing more school visits than ever before. In 2011, I did 40 days of programming for more than 25,000 students. And 2012 is off to a strong start.

Until recently, most school visits were in October, April, and May. But now they’re sprinkled throughout the school year. And instead of scheduling these programs a year or more in advance, schools are contacting me just a month or two before the visit.

I don’t really mind that school visits are being set up much closer to the visit date. And for the most part, it’s fine that they’re interspersed throughout the year (except for when snow becomes an issue). And most of all, I’m delighted to have a steady supply of invitations.

The photos you see here were taken at an elementary school in Marlborough, MA. I had a great time with the K-4 students. We talked about butterflies and birds and what animals do under the snow in winter.

I’m looking forward to a busy spring. Nothing inspires me so much as meeting with kids and getting their views on the books I write.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cool Clouds

Yesterday morning I took a quick photo of what appeared to be a solid bank of stratus clouds. But when I took a closer look at the resulting image on my computer, I noticed something that surprised me—some darker patches. See them?

I hadn’t noticed them with my eyes, so I took another look out the window. Sure enough, there they were. But something about the wonders of photography made them a bit more noticeable in the images. That surprised me because I’ve often marveled at how difficult it is to capture a sunset’s true beauty with a camera.

I did some research to try to figure out what the darker areas were, but I couldn’t find much. My best guess is that they are denser concentrations of water droplets. I can’t figure out why the droplets would cluster more tightly in some areas than others. I thinking it must have something to do with the conditions in different areas of the atmosphere. But I’m still looking for answers. Any ideas?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Fun: Vida Becomes a Star

YouTube is full of them--weird, funny, amazing pet videos. And being an animal lover, I’ve clicked on more than a few of them. I just couldn't help myself.

Then it occurred to me that other people--especially kids--might be amused by my own quirky pet. Afterall, they're always asking me about animals during school visits. That’s how this video came about.

Lucky for me I have such a talented feline friend.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Behind the Books: When Reading Isn’t Enough

If you’ve ever been to an SCBWI conference, then you’ve undoubtedly heard this advice: “Before you begin writing for kids, read a hundred books in the genre that interests you.”

It’s great advice. After all, how can you create a book that will capture an editor’s eye and heart and mind unless you have a sense of what published authors are doing? I read children’s literature voraciously. But, for me, reading a book isn’t always enough.

When I really admire a book, I often type out the text. For picture books, I type the whole text and insert the page breaks. For longer books, I type out a few pages at key points—the beginning, the end, a section I particularly like.

Since the writing I create is in manuscript form, seeing the manuscript of other books really helps me understand pacing, story arc, the power of page turns, and more. It also helps me visualize what my manuscript might look like as a book. And that can help me make important decision about what to cut and what to keep.

When I typed out Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman, I realized that the text itself is structured as a swirl. I never would have noticed the author's ingenious structural device otherwise.

When I typed out Thank you, Sarah! The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson , I was able to see how the author created the book’s amazing voice and how she crammed so much history into so few words.

And when I typed out Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, I was able to understand how the author constructed his narrative to compliment the style of Dave’s own poems.

Seeing a published book as a manuscript thelps me to see and understand an author’s intent and process. It also reinforces the idea that all the books I admire were once manuscripts themselves, and that gives me hope.

Hope. That’s something all writers need in spades.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cool Clouds: Hmmph!

Well, February is supposed to be the cloudiest month in New England, but look at this sky. Nothing but blue skies all around me—well, except a few tiny wisps just above the tree line.

We’ll have to hope for something a little more interesting next week. Still, just looking at this sky makes me happy. I love that shade of blue.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

1. People aren’t the only animals with opposable thumbs. Chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans have them, too. They’re our closest relatives in the animal world.

2. Most of the monkeys in Africa and Asia have opposable thumbs and big toes. Monkeys in Central and South America have only opposable big toes, so their hands can’t grip, grab, or grasp like yours.

3. Which body part takes the most brain power to control? It’s not your heart or your lungs. It’s your thumbs.

4. As your hands push, pull, pinch, and poke, nearly 35,000 sensors in your skin collect information about the outside world. Each one is at the tip of a long, stringy nerve that carries messages to your brain.

5. When you talk to people, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their hands. When people keep their hands open, with the palms up, they feel friendly and are probably telling the truth. If people hide their hands or have their palms down, they could be lying. Or they might be feeling angry or worried. And if you see a clenched fist . . . RUN!

Looking for more Gross and Goofy Body facts? Check out my book Give Me a Hand: The Secrets of Hands, Feet, Arms, and Legs. It’s full of weird, wacky, strange, and surprising information about your body and the bodies of other animals.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Behind the Books: Let’s Get Real!

In recent years, I’ve read a plethora of articles and blog posts about the name “nonfiction.” Although I’ve never been too upset that the books I write are identified as “not something else (fiction)”, it’s got lots of folks all hot and bothered. And let’s face it, keeping the differences between the two similar sounding names--fiction and nonfiction--can be confusing to young kids who are just beginning to read.

To solve the problem, some librarians are now using the term “information” book. But not everyone likes that name either. Some people think it sounds, well, not all the interesting and exciting. They say nonfiction has much more to offer than just information.

Other suggestions include true books (as opposed to fake books, I guess) and real books and fact books. But none of these has really stuck.

Recently, Marc Aronson, who has long been advocating a name change, proposed “reality book.” Of all the ideas I’ve heard, this one seems the most appealing to me. I like the obvious connection to the currently uber-popular reality TV phenomenon, and I like that it avoids the problems of simply calling nonfiction “real” books or “true” books.

What do you think?