Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Fun: One More Reason I Love Kids

A letter from a third grader after a school visit in which I admitted that I was really struggling with a work-in-progress:

“You are the best writer in the world. I believe in you. Don’t give up. Keep trust in yourself.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Behind the Books: Curriculum Connections

Behind the Books: Curriculum Connections
A few weeks ago, three children’s book-loving organizations—Lesley University Department of Education, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators--joined forces to present a full-day workshop for educators, and it was a huge success.

One of the eleven featured books was Feathers: Not Just for Flying. Here are some of the great teaching ideas developed by Erika Thulin Dawes, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy, Lesley University.

Local Bird Guide. Have students select birds you can find in your community that they would like to research in greater detail. Students may do this individually, in pairs, or small groups. Read Look up! Bird Watching in Your Own Back Yard for inspiration. Work with students to create a guide for observing birds in your area. Have students convey what they believe is most important to share about their bird. Ask your public library to display students’ finished work.

Feathers Not Just for Birds?: Exploring the Bird / Dinosaur Connection. After reading, Feathers Not Just for Flying, students may be inspired to learn more about recent discoveries indicating that more dinosaurs may have had feather than scientists had previously thought. Read sections of Catherine Thimmesh’s Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? along with online resources to support students’ inquiry into scientists’ evolving understandings of the connection between dinosaurs and the birds we see every day
Similes Metaphors in Science Writing. Authors of nonfiction often use similes and metaphors to help readers better understand and/ or visualize the scientific concepts they want to convey in their writing. Melissa Stewart employs this technique through Feathers Not Just for Flying (hear Melissa describe this technique in her video mini-lesson: Record several of these metaphors on a large piece of chart paper. Read aloud another science trade book in which the author uses similes and metaphors, such as Big Blue Whale by Nicola Davies. Ask students to identify the similes and metaphors in the book and to record them on chart paper. Add to this chart over a period of a couple of weeks as students collect additional examples from their reading. Invite students to use metaphors to enliven and improve the clarity of their nonfiction writing.
Specialized Nonfiction: Duet Model with Bird Beaks. With its in depth and specific focus on bird feathers and their functions, Feathers Not Just For Flying is an example of the subgenre of nonfiction known as Specialized Nonfiction. Compare the writing and styles and organizational structure of this book with Beaks by Sneed B. Collard, III, reading the two titles in a Duet Model (Cappiello & Dawes, 2012). There are subtle differences between these two examples of specialized nonfiction, as well as many similarities to discuss. Following this comparison exercise, invite students to research and write about bird feet types, using these two texts as models.

Cappiello, M.A. & Dawes, E.T. (2013). Teaching with text sets. Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education.

Cate, A.L. (2013). Look up! Bird watching in your own back yard. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Collard, S. (2002). Beaks. Ill. by R. Brickman. Cambridge, MA; Charlesbridge.

Davies, J. (2004). The boy who drew birds: A story of John James Audubon. Ill. by M. Sweet. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Davies, N. (1997). Big blue whale. Ill. by N. Maland. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Henkes, K. (2009). Birds. Ill. by L. Dronzek. New York: Greenwillow.

Judge, L. (2012). Bird talk: What birds are saying and why. New York. Roaring Brook Press.

Stewart, M. (2009). A place for birds. Ill. by H. Bond. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.

Thimmesh (2013). Scaly spotted feathered frilled: How do we know what dinosaurs really looked like? Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Yolen, J. (2011). Birds of a feather. Ill. by J. Stemple. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong Poetry.

In addition, Erika suggested pairing one of the other featured books, Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns, with the newly-revised  edition of A Place for Butterflies.

Duet Model Reading with A Place for Butterflies. To engage your students in a comparison of butterflies in their natural habitats and butterflies on a farm, such as El Bosque Nuevo, read Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey paired with Melissa Stewart’s A Place for Butterflies. Provide students with lots of discussion time to share their learning about butterfly life cycles, habitats and behaviors, and the need for conservation efforts. These two titles could be used to launch a unit of study on butterflies focusing on their role in ecosystems, current threats, and conservation efforts. After their initial reading and discussion to these two titles, students can brainstorm a list of inquiry questions to pursue, using additional print and digital texts.
What a great event!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Fun: Teachers and Librarians Are Soooo Clever!

We all know how overburdened teachers and school librarians (teacher-librarians) are these days, and yet, they somehow manage to find the time to share my books in ways that really make a difference. I’m constantly amazed. Here are two great examples:

Harriet LaPointe, teacher-librarian extraordinaire of Colt Andrews School in Bristol, RI, created this awesome poster to publicize my school visit with her students. Wow!
Sue Heitner, a fabulous first-grade teacher in Austin, TX, worked with her students to create this lovely problem/solution chart for A Place for Bats while doing a unit on bats. I was so excited to talk to the students via Skype and answer all their questions about bats and the process of writing A Place for Bats.
The team at King Open School in Cambridge, MA, must have spent hours putting together this bulletin board right outside the library.

I really appreciate all the time and energy that went into prepping kids for my visits. It makes a huge difference when the kids are familiar with my work before I walk through the door!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Behind the Books: A Great Week in Vermont

I had the great pleasure of spending last week with the students and teachers at Orchard School in South Burlington, Vermont. I spoke to the smart, curious K-2 students about bats and birds and frogs as well as the writing and book-making process. The enthusiastic grade 3-5 classes met with me twice for in-depth programs about nonfiction writing.

While I was speaking to students on one end of the school, passionate teacher-librarian Donna MacDonald-Sullivan was hard at work down the hall, asking students to think deeply about my books and my writing suggestions during their library period. And all over the school, teachers were integrating my ideas and books into their lessons. Wow!

On Monday night, Donna and several teachers  took me out to dinner at a delicious local restaurant. Shout out to the second-grade hall for sharing a meal and their space with me!

On Wednesday, fourth graders tweeted out messages. Here are a few examples:

Thank you @mstewartscience for teaching me about how we get cocoa beans and the whole cycle. Thank you for coming to Orchard School!

Hi @mstewartscience! We really love all of your books, such as "Alligator or Crocodile" and "No Monkeys, No Chocolate."

My friend and I loved that we just learned that killer whales are really dolphins! Thank you author-in-residence @mstewartscience.

Mrs. Pecor's third graders wrote a lovely poem inspired by Feathers: Not Just for Flying (illus by Sarah S. Brannen) and performed it for me. Double Wow!

And just as I was packing up to go, I was presented a wonderful basket full of Vermont-made items and so many beautifully-crafted student-made cards and notes that it may take me all summer to read them. Triple Wow!
I am one lucky author.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Deadliest Animals: Look at Those Cool Photos!

When I gush over the amazing images in Deadliest Animals and other National Geographic Readers, I’m not being at all immodest. That’s because I have very little to do with tracking down the photos or deciding how to use them in the book. Sure, I make suggestions based on my research, but lots of other people are involved in the process. And each one of them has a special expertise that helps to make the book the best it can be.

The National Geographic Society has one of the best photo archives in the world and a team of photo researchers who knows the collection inside and out. That’s one of the reasons the Readers look so terrific. The other reason is the talented graphic designers who skillfully place all the elements on the pages.
Every time I see one of their layouts, I’m blown away. And as NG’s art directors and editors work to refine the design and finalize the text and images, the books just get better and better. The gorgeous photos and visually-dynamic design gives the National Geographic Readers their signature look.
Next week, I’m going to give you a sneak peek at some of the changes Deadliest Animals underwent during the layout and design process. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Fun: Gross Out!

You’ll never guess how a sea cucumber protects itself from enemies. It upchucks its intestines. Yep, it’s true. The gross, gooey, stinky, sticky pile of barf is enough to make most predators lose their appetite.

For more gross facts about our animal neighbors, check out Animal Grossapedia. But be sure not to read it right after lunch!


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Behind the Books: Thinking about Nonfiction Classification

Last week, I blogged about the great presentation nonfiction authors Loree Griffin Burns and Alexandra Siy gave at this year’s NESCBWI conference. During one segment of the 2-hour session, Loree shared her way of thinking about the break down of nonfiction for kids into categories based on the structure of the text.

Loree has two broad categories—narrative, which I talked about last week, and concept, which I’m going to look at here.

Within the concept category, Loree includes the subcategories alphabet, gimmick (a hook so strong it forms the structural backbone of the book), time, and curricular (has direct ties to the curriculum). Here are a couple of examples in each category:

B is for Blue Planet: An Earth Science Alphabet by Ruth Strother (illus. Bob Marstall)
Journey Around Cape Cod & the Islands from A to Z by Martha Day Zschock

Bubble Homes and Fish Farts by Fiona Bayrock (illus. Carolyn Conahan)
How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg (illus. Kevin O’Malley)

Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with a Caribou Herd by Karsten Heuer
Just a Second: A Different Way to Look at Time by Steve Jenkins

An Extraordinary Life. by Laurence Pringle (illus. Bob Marstall)
Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature by Sarah Campbell

I'm going to be giving this approach some serious thought going forward. Clearly, there is a lot of great nonfiction that falls outside the narrative category, but it’s hard to figure out how to classify it. Mark Aronson and his Uncommon Corps colleagues have suggested the system discussed here. Recently, I’ve tried to sort popular nonfiction titles using the structures highlighted in Common Core, with narrative = sequence.

Here’s a recap of what I’ve come up with:

Description Books
The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins
Dolphins! by Melissa Stewart
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos
Lightship by Brian Floca
An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston Hutts

Compare & Contrast Books
List book
Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge
Deadliest Anima’s by Melissa Stewart
Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins
Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart
Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer
Time to Sleep by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Dueling spreads
Alligator or Crocodile? How Do You Know by Melissa Stewart
Butterfly or Moth? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart
Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart
Insect of Spider? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart
Neo Leo by Gene Barretta
Now & Ben by Gene Barretta
Those Rebels, Tom & John by Barbara Kerley
Timeless Thomas by Gene Baretta
Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy
Salamander or Lizard? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart
Shark or Fish? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart

Cause & Effect Books
Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman
A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart (illus Higgins Bond)
A Place for Fish by Melissa Stewart (illus Higgins Bond)
A Place for Frogs by Melissa Stewart (illus Higgins Bond)
A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart (illus Higgins Bond)
A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart (illus Higgins Bond)
A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart (illus Higgins Bond)

Q & A Books
Good Question series (Sterling)
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine (illus. T.S. Spookytooth)
Hello Bumblebee Bat by Darrin Lunde (illus.Patricia J. Wynne )
How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

I think these categories work fairly well, but I’m not sure I’m completely satisfied with them. I think the bottom line is this: Fiction has well-established genres like science fiction, romance, fantasy, etc. But people generally sort nonficiton by topic—science, social studies/history, math, Arts, but it seems like there must be a better system. I think it’s really exciting that so many people are now beginning to think about it deeply and coming up with different ways of classifying nonfiction.  It’s all good.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Deadliest Animals: Working with an Editor

When I’m happy with a manuscript, it’s time to send it in to my editor for her feedback. Believe it or not, I almost never meet my editors in person and I rarely speak to them on the phone. Almost all of our communication is via email.

Most of the time, my editor and I use the Track Changes, a feature in Microsoft Word, to communicate. She asks questions or suggests changes. I either accept her changes or I explain why his/her suggestion might not be the best way to go. Then I suggest alternate changes that address his/her concerns.
National Geographic has generously allowed me to share a few examples from Deadliest Animals.

In this first example (click to enlarge), the editor wanted to make everything in the first paragraph singular rather than plural. In the second paragraph, she suggested deleting a sentence to improve flow. She was worried that removing the sentence might leave too little text on the page, but the art/production director said it wouldn't be a problem.

In this second example (click to enlarge), the editor thought we needed to add a bit more information to clarify the point. She suggested a possible alternate wording, but I decided to try something a little bit different.

In this example (click to enlarge), the editor made a very good point. Many of the books in the series are sold to other English-speaking nations. They are also translated into other languages. She pointed out that the expression I had chosen was fun, it wouldn't work well for audiences outside the U.S.

Here is the text for last spread of the book (click to enlarge). The editor thought we needed a build up to the final fascinating fact—that mosquitoes are the deadliest animals on Earth. So I added a new paragraph. But I was worried that there was now way too much text for the spread, so I suggested cutting some text from the third paragraph.

The art/production director was also worried that there was too much text on the spread. She thought we might want to cut the last paragraph, even though she liked it. The editor responded that she wanted to keep it. At this point, we all thought there was too much text, but decided to resolve the problem during the layout stage. Then we’d see how the layout was working and could figure out exactly how much needed to be cut.

To see how the book progressed from this point, come back next week.



Friday, May 9, 2014

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: What falls but never gets hurt?
A: The rain.

Q: What happens when it rains cats and dogs?
A:  You have to be careful not to step in a poodle.

Q: What goes up when rain comes down?
A: Umbrellas.

Q: Why do raindrops like lightning at night?
A: It helps them see where they’re going.

Q: What kind of music does thunder like best?
A: Rock and roll.

Looking for more super silly jokes about the weather? Check out Wacky Weather and Silly Seasons.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Behind the Books: More Thoughts About the Nonfiction Family Tree

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’m, er, obsessed with classifying nonfiction. It helps me think about all the possible ways I can write nonfiction for kids.

I started thinking about a nonfiction family tree in 2012 and have been revising it ever since, inspired by the ideas of such thought leaders as Jonathan Hunt and Marc Aronson.

Last weekend, I attended a thought-provoking session at NE-SCBWI led by the talented nonfiction authors Loree Griffin Burns and Alexandra Siy. During one segment of the 2-hour talk, Loree presented a system for organizing nonfiction based on the structure of the text. And I think she came up with some ideas that all nonfiction authors should consider.

Loree divided nonfiction structures into two broad categories—Concept structures and Narrative structures. I’m going to take a closer look at the Concept category next week, but I’ll focus on her thoughts about narrative structures today.

Loree divides narrative nonfiction into four subcategories: chronological, adjusted chronological (such as books with en media res openings), braided chronological (books with multiple strands), and circular. Here are a couple of examples in each category:

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeannette Winter

Adjusted chronological
Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone
Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery

Braided chronological
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
The Immortal Life of Henreitta Lacks

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart (illus. Nicole Wong)
Pumpkin Circle by George Levenson and Shmuel Thaler

You’ll see a lot of overlap with the way I’ve subdivided narrative nonfiction in previous posts. Here's a recap:

Chronological narrative
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet
Buried Alive by Elaine Scott
The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton (illus. Tony Persiani)
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley (illus Brian Selznick)
Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully
Noah Webster & His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris
Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola
Pop: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Megan McCarthy
The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass (E.B. Lewis)
Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson
What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley (illus. Edwin Fotheringham)

Episodic narrative
Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Brave Girl by Michelle Markel
When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

Mixed narrative
Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
We’ve Got a Job by Cynthia Levinson
Circle narrative
Coral Reef by Jason Chin
A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison
Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman
Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley
Redwoods by Jason Chin
Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart
When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart
Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre

Cumulative narrative
Here Is Antarctica by Madeleine Dunphy
Here Is the African Savanna by Madeleine Dunphy (illus Tom Leonard)
Here Is the Coral Reef by Madeleine Dunphy (illus Tom Leonard)
Here Is the Tropical Rain Forest by Madeleine Dunphy (illus Michael Rothman)
Here Is the Wetland by Madeleine Dunphy (illus Wayne McLoughlin)
Here Is the Southwestern Desert by Madeleine Dunphy (illus Ann Coe)
Here Is the Arctic Winter by Madeleine Dunphy (illus Alan James Robinson)
No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart
Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox

Journey narrative
If Stones Could Speak by Marc Aronson
Lost Treasure of the Inca by Peter Lourie
Quest for the Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery
Saving the Ghost of the Mountain by Sy Montgomery

Here’s how the two systems compare:
--We both recognize Chronological Narratives as a distinct category.
--I think Loree would lump my Episodic Narrative titles into her Chronological category.
--Loree’s Adjusted and Braided categories are basically subdivisions of my Mixed category. But I really like her uses of the word "braided." I may end up borrowing it.
--My circle and cumulative categories are subdivisions of Loree’s circular category.
--I wonder where Loree would place the books that I think of a Journey Narratives.

Next week I’ll take a closer look at Loree’s Concept structures categories.