Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: What happened when the moon tried to run away from home?
A: He suddenly understood the gravity of his situation.

Q: What does the star of our solar system like to eat for desert?
A: A hot fudge sun-dae.

Q: Did you hear about the new restaurant on Mercury?
A: It has great food, but not much atmosphere.

Q: What did Mercury say to Venus?
A: You’re hot stuff!

Q: Why did the asteroid eat a hot dog instead of mac and cheese?
A: Because it’s meteor.

Looking for more super silly jokes about outer space? Check out Out of this World Jokes About the Solar System.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Behind the Books: Super Silly Science Jokes

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I sometimes post science jokes on Fridays. Well, I have a confession to make. Those jokes were tests.

You see, for the last couple of years, I’ve been working on a series of books that are chock full of science jokes. Of course, the books also include lots of great facts about such topics as the solar system, electricity and magnetism, and rocks and minerals.

At the end of these books, which I’m happy to announce have just been published, is a section with all kinds of hints and tips that kids can use to write their own jokes. I’m hoping they’ll send me some of their jokes, and if they do, I’ll post them here.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned about writing science jokes for kids. Let’s start with some basics.

1. It’s usually easier to think of a joke’s punch line, or answer, first. Then work backward to come up with the set up, or question.

2. Keep the set up short and simple. People who listen to your joke will want to try to guess the answer. It’s half the fun of hearing the joke. But if the question is too long, your listeners won’t be able to remember it all. They’ll feel frustrated instead of excited.

3. Keep the answer short and simple too. That way it will pack more of a punch.

4. After you write a joke, spend time revising it. Choosing just the right words for the set up and punch line will make the joke better. Here’s an example:

Q: Why didn’t the ram fall off the cliff?
A: It made a ewe turn.

That’s not bad, but it could be even better. Let’s try changing just a few words.

Q: Why did the ram fall off the cliff?
A: It didn’t see the ewe turn.

Why is the second version funnier? There are a few reasons.
• The word play works better.
• There is more action. The ram actually does fall off the cliff.
• The ram makes a mistake that causes it to have a problem.

Intrigued? Be on the lookout for more joke-writing posts in the future. And check out the Super Silly Science Jokes I post on Friday.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cool Clouds

Take a look at these stunning cirrocumulus clouds. They're made of ice crystals with a few randow liquid water droplets scattered here and there. Why so icy? Because they're high in the atmossphere. Really high. At least at least 5,000 feet above the ground. And way up there, the air is always pretty darn chilly.

I also really like this photo for the way the sun is striking the maple tree. It makes the branches glisten.

Ah, the sweet days of spring. It seemed like they were here last week when I took this photo. But now the temperature has plunged back into the normal range. In this neck of the woods, the average high temperature for March is 45 degrees Farhrenheit.

Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

1. Without a brain, you’d die in just a few minutes. But a cockroach can run around for weeks with its head cut off.

2. Stegosaurs may have been the most brainless animals ever to live. The 2-ton dinosaurs were more than 30 feet (10 meters) long, but some scientists think their brain was the size of a walnut.

3. A housefly’s brain has 300,000 neurons. It also has clumps of nerve tissue that detect and process smells, sounds, temperature, light patterns, pressure, textures, and taste.

4. An octopus has a fairly good memory and is capable of learning. Its brain has 300 million neurons and small, lobe-like structures.

5. How does a Mohave rattlesnake stop prey in its tracks? The poison flowing out of its fangs shuts down the chemicals that carry messages to the animal’s brain. And if the victim’s nerves can’t work, neither can anything else.

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, March 21, 2012

Behind the Books: A Must Read

I don’t usually review books on this blog. But once in a while I find a title that I love so much that I want to share it with anyone and everyone who will listen. 11 Experiments that Failed by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter is that kind of book. 

What makes this book so great? For starters, it capitalizes on every child’s natural curiosity. We need more books that do that. Lots more.
Second, it’s LOL hilarious. Who can resist that?

But most important of all, I’ve never seen a book that so successfully introduces children to the scientific method. The entire text is presented as the steps of the scientific process. Here’s an example:

Question: Can a kid make it through the winter eating snow and ketchup?

Hypothesis: Ketchup and snow are the only food groups a kid needs.
What You Need: ketchup, snow

What to Do:

1.     Make a snowball.
2.     Dip in ketchup.
3.     Eat
4.     Repeat three times a day until spring.

What Happened: Stomachache, brain freeze, love of ketchup wavering.

Even on its own, the text is pretty darn funny, but the artwork by accomplished illustrator Nancy Carpenter really kicks it up a notch. And the endpapers are not to be missed. Seriously. That Nancy Carpenter is a genius.

I highly, highly, highly recommend this book. It should be a staple in every single elementary classroom and every library worldwide.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cool Clouds: Spring Sky

These light, lovely altostratus clouds covered most of the sky around 7:30 this mornning, but now they've given way to a nearly perfect blue. It's going to be a beautiful spring day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Behind the Books: Three Melissas and Nonfiction Text Features

Last week during a Twitter conversation, @mtechman a.k.a. Melissa Techman, the K-5 School Librarian in Charlottesville, VA, mentioned that the Common Core ELA standards have left teachers searching for effective ways to teach nonfiction text features. She pointed me to this great blog written by Melissa Clancy, a kindergarten teacher at Bates Elementary School in Wellesley, MA. Mrs. Clancy created the great text feature poster (above).

And she was inspired by a poster (below) she spotted on Pinterst. This is what social media is all about!
Anyway, this started me thinking about how I could help educators teach their students about nonfiction text features. And the answer seemed obvious. Create a video mini-lesson. Enjoy!

Note: This post was updated in September 2017 to replace information about a now out-of-print book with a link to a brand new video mini-lesson based on my experiences as an author and samples created by students I've worked with.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cool Clouds: My Friend, the Moon

My computer has been in the shop for the last few days, so I've been using my husband's machine. When I sit at his desk, my view is straight out a window. We chose this set up because I thought the window would be too distracting for me. And I was right.

When the writing is tough, it's hard not to watch the sky and the trees and the birds. But the up side is that I see lots of cool clouds. This morning I was greeted not by clouds, but by the Moon. Even now, at 8:00, I can see it on the horizon. Can you spot it in this photo?

It's just lovely.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Fun: Five Gross and Goofy Body Facts

1. A woodpecker keeps its supersized tongue in a groove that wraps around the inside of its skull. When the woodpecker drills holes in trees, its fleshy tongue pads its brain.

2. How does an alligator snapping turtle lure its prey? By wiggling a wormlike structure on the tip of its tongue.

3. A penguin’s tongue has tiny spikes that point backward, toward its throat. They prevent slippery fish from sliding out of the bird’s mouth.

4. When a blue-tongued skink feels scared, it opens its mouth and sticks out its tongue. The shocking colors are usually enough to scare off predators.

5. How does a gecko clean its eyes? With its tongue!

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, March 7, 2012

Behind the Books: Creative Nonfiction Doesn’t Always Tell a Story

In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about narrative nonfiction—books that uses scene building, dialog, and other elements borrowed from fiction to tell true stories. But narrative texts are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creative nonfiction for young readers.

Here are some examples:
Lyrical nonfiction employs such language devices as alliteration, rhythm, and repetition to infuse prose with combinations of sounds and syllables that are especially pleasing to the ear.

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre (illus by Steve Jenkins)

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (illus by Beth Krommes)

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass (illus by E.B. Lewis)

Step Out Gently by Helen Frost (photos by Rick Lieder)

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart (illus. Constance R. Bergum)

Humorous nonfiction makes expert use of sentence structure, unexpected word choices, and puns to craft a voice that has an unmistakably sassy, silly, whimsical, or even irreverent tone.

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving and Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson (illus by Matt Faulkner)

The Truth About Poop and See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House by Susan E. Goodman (illus. by Elwood H. Smith)

Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs by Kathleen Kudlinski (illus. by S.D. Schindler)

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley (illus. by Edwin Fotheringham)

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos (illus. by Stephanie Jorisch)

Some creative nonfiction for children is noteworthy for its structure, art, and design rather than its exceptional storytelling or spot-on voice.

What Would You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page 

Move! by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed and Revealed by David Schwartz, Yael Schy, and Dwight Kuhn

Redwoods and Coral Reefs by Jason Chin

If you’re interested in crafting your own creative nonfiction title, read and study a wide variety of  books, including the ones mentioned above. Think deeply and innovatively about your own topic.

Would it work well as a narrative?

Would it benefit from a strong, distinctive voice?

What kind of layout or style of illustration would really bring the topic to life for young readers?

When it comes to today’s nonfiction for kids, the creative possibilities are endless.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cool Clouds: Weird Winter

Now here’s exactly the kind of gloomy, overcast sky you expect to see in February. There’s just one problem. I didn’t take this photo in February, I took it on March 1 as snowflakes drifted toward the ground. Yup, this is a snow sky—something we haven’t seen much of this winter.

Since yesterday hit 50 degrees Fahrenheit and there’s more warm weather headed our way this week, I doubt the 2 or 3 inches of snow will last long. Still, I’m enjoying the brightness it brings. After all, it’s hard to imagine a winter in New England without at least some snow.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Fun: Going Batty!

In honor of the publication of A Place for Bats here are some fascinating bat facts. Enjoy!
  • No one knows exactly how many kinds of bats live on Earth. So far, scientists have discovered more than 1,100 different species.
  • Forty-five kinds of bats live in North America. Seven of them are on the endangered species list—gray bats, Indiana bats, Ozark, big-eared bats, Virginia big-eared bats, lesser long-nosed bats, Mexican long-nosed bats, and Hawaiian hoary bats.

  • Almost all of the bats in North America and 70 percent of bats worldwide eat insects. But some bats eat fruit, nectar, fish, frogs, lizards, and birds.

  • Blood-sucking vampire bats in Central and South America usually feed on chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Sometimes they drink blood from pigs, cattle, and horses.

  • Bats are the only mammals that can fly. The big brown bat is the world’s fastest bat. It can cruise through the air at forty miles per hour.

  • The Philippine bamboo bat is the smallest bat on Earth. It’s about the size of a bumblebee. The flying fox is the world’s largest bat. It’s as long as two loaves of bread placed end to end, and its wings can stretch 5 feet.

  • Bats can live up to twenty years. Most female bats have one pup each year, but western red bats can have up to four babies at once.