Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference Handout

Today I’m presenting a talk entitled Having Fun with Nonfiction: Using Award-winning Children’s Books in the Classroom at the Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference in Winchester, VA. I’m sharing my handout here (rather than on paper), so that interested people can simply click on the links. (Plus it saves trees.)

Whether or not your state has adopted the Common Core standards, you are probably being asked to integrate more nonfiction into your curriculum. And that means working with students to develop their nonfiction reading skills. Here’s how they break down:

Traditional Skills

  • Identifying main ideas
  • Recognizing supporting details
  • Building vocabulary
  • Identifying connections/relationships between ideas, events, or individuals in a book

 Twenty-first Century Skills
  • Thinking about visual literacy
  • Identifying text features (sidebars, TOC, index)
  • Analyzing text structures
  • Considering the intent of texts, author point of view, and how authors support points
  • Comparing multiple texts and various media

What follows are teaching ideas and book lists for each of the skills described above. Here are some general resources:



Identifying main ideas/Recognizing supporting details
Reading Buddy programs have many proven benefits. When buddies use nonfiction trade books with layered text, the benefits increase. Younger students read the simpler main text (which includes the main idea) and the older student reads the secondary text (which includes supporting details). Then they discuss the art together. When they are done, they can work together to complete supporting activities. For more information: http://www.melissa-stewart.com/pdf/scirdbuddies.pdf

Recommended Titles
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
Beaks by Sneed B. Collard (illus. by Robin Brickman)

The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre (illus Patricia J. Wynne)

A Butterfly is Patient by Diana Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart (illus. Sarah S. Brannen)

Meet the Howlers by April Pulley Sayre (illus. Woody Miller)

Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart (illus. Nicole Wong)

A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart (illus by Higgins Bond)

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

When the Wolves Returned by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (photos Dan and Cassie Hartman)

Building vocabulary
For younger children, fun songs are a great way to reinforce domain-specific vocabulary introduced in children’s books. Here are some sample songs I’ve written to build vocabulary included in lifecycle units on butterflies and frogs:

For upper elementary students, Readers Theater is a wonderful way to reinforce vocabulary (not to mention build fluency and comprehension). Many science-themed children’s books can easily be adapted into Readers Theater scripts that kids will love practicing and performing. For information about the benefits of RT and how to adapt books into scripts that are perfect for your students, please see this article:http://www.melissa-stewart.com/pdf/ReadersTheater.pdf#zoom=70

Here are RT scripts I’ve written to accompany some of my books: http://www.melissa-stewart.com/sciclubhouse/teachhome/readers.html
Recommended Titles
Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart (illus. Constance R. Bergum)
Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Steve Jenkins
Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman
Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson (illus. Gennady Spirin)
Leaving Home by Sneed Collard (illus Joan Dunning)
Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
Monarch and Milkweed by Helen Frost (illus Leonid Gore)
Rain, Rain, Rain Forest by Brenda Guiberson (illus Steve Jenkins)
A Rainbow of Animals by Melissa Stewart
Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart (illus. Constance R. Bergum)
When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart (illus. Constance R. Bergum)
Where Are the Night Animals?by Mary Ann Fraser
Where Butterflies Grow by Joanne Ryder (illus Lynne Cherry)
Identifying connections/relationships between ideas, events, or individuals in a book
It can be tricky to find books that are perfectly suited for teaching this skill. Here are some titles that I recommend:
For Younger Students
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine
Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge
Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman
For Older Students
Energy Island by Allan Drummond
John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith
Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonard da Vinci by Gene Baretta
Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola
Those Rebels John & Tom by Barbara Kerley (illus. Edwin Fotheringham)
Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre (illus. Kate Enderle)
Thinking about visual literacy
This is a critical skill for twenty-first century learners. While any book illustrated with art or photos can be used to discuss the role of the words and pictures, here are a few that I particularly recommend:
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton (illus. Tony Persiani)
An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)
Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkle
Redwoods by Jason Chin

Identifying text features/Analyzing text structures
This is another important skill twenty-first century learners. Many of my books include a wide variety of text features, so I’ve developed teaching materials to go with them, including a SmartBoard slide and several worksheets and activities that you can download:
I’ve also sorted dozens of award-winning nonfiction books by text structure and developed some related activities. You can access them here:
Considering the intent of texts, author point of view, and how authors support points
Today’s students are also being asked to imagine themselves “in the shoes” of the authors. They must consider that an author’s world view affects how he/she approaches topics. For discussions of author intent, I recommend two activities.
1.    Compare The Snail’s Spell by Joanne Ryder (illus Lynne Cherry) and Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell, focusing on why two authors might have created such different books about the same small animal.
2.    Imagine author Barbara Kerley’s thought process as she developed the voice for What to Do About Alice?. How do students think the publisher’s choice of Edwin Fotheringham and the illustrator reinforced the author’s intent for the book?
For discussions of point of view, ask students to consider how the authors’ world view inspired them to write the following titles:
City Chickens by Christine Heppermann
A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart (illus Higgins Bond)
Step Out Gently by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder
Write On, Mercy: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren by Gretchen Woelfle (illus. Alexandra Wallner)
List books (in which the main idea is stated on the first page and subsequent spreads are essentially a list of examples that reinforce the main idea) are a simple and powerful way to show students how author can support their points. I recommend the following titles:

Bird Talk by Lita Judge
Born to Be Giants by Lita Judge
A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)
An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)
Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart (illus. Sarah S. Brannen)
How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? by Steve Jenkins
Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page
A Rainbow of Animals by Melissa Stewart
A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)
Wings by Sneed Collard
Comparing multiple texts and various media
There are lots of ways to help students develop this skill, and trade children’s books can play a central role. To compare and firsthand and secondhand account, try using The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Suzy) by Barbara Kerley (illus. Edwin Fotheringham) Inside the book, there is a little tiny book with excerpts from the journal of Samuel Clemens’s daughter Suzy. The main text explores how the world viewed Mark Train, the famous writer, while the excerpts share his daughter’s point of view. It’s a powerful way for kids to realize that the world might see their own parents differently than they do.
Students will also enjoy comparing fiction and nonfiction books that look at the same topic. Here are some books I recommend:
Bring on the Birds by Susan Stockdale
Birds by Kevin Henkes (illus. Laura Dronzek)
Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart (illus. Candace R. Bergum)
Under and Over the Snow by Kate Messner (illus.  Christopher Silas)
Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Htakoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu (photos Peter Greste)
A Mama for Owen by Marion Dane Bauer (illus. John Butler)
Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue for War by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock
And if you are looking for a resource that combines studying fiction/nonfiction pairs with teaching science, you might want to use Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2, a book I co-authored with former teacher Nancy Chesley. It will be available from Stenhouse Publishers in August.
Students will also be interested in comparing two nonfiction books covering the same topic but written in different ways by different authors. Here are some great examples:
The Wolves Are Back by Jean Craighead George (illus. Wendell Minor)
Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee
The Truth About Poop by Susan E. Goodman (illus. Elwood H. Smith)
The Tale of Pale Male by Jeanette Winter
City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male by Meghan McCarthy
Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City by Janet Schulamn (illus. Meilo So)
Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter
Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire Nivola
Seeds of Change: Wangari's Gift to the World by Jen Cullerton Johnson and Sonia Lynn Sadler
Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli (illus Kadir Nelson)
Children’s trade books can also be included in lessons that look at a particular topic using a variety of media. Here are some ideas for a unit on honey bees for upper-elementary students.
  1. Read aloud the beginning and end of The Hive Detectives: A Chronicle of Bee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns (photos Ellen Harasimowicz) for a great firsthand account of working with a bee hive.
  2. Ask students to read The Buzz on Bees: Why Are They Disappearing? by Shelley Rotner and Anne Woodhull (age-appropriate overview of the current plight of honey bees), The Life and Times of the Hony Bee by Charles Micucci (general information about bees), and unBEElievables by Douglas Florian (fun bee poetry).
  3. Encourage students to listen to NPR’s Science Friday report “The Buzz on Bees: Coping with Vanishing Colonies.” http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/08/07/2009/the-buzz-on-bees-coping-with-vanishing-colonies.html
  4. Invite students to view a webcam showing live bees inside a hive: http://wildwoodforesthoney.com/VIDEO/video001.htm
A great general resource for planning lessons that take advantage of various kinds of media is Teaching with Text Sets by Mary Ann Cappiello and Erika Thulin Dawes. Follow their blog here: http://classroombookshelf.blogspot.com/

Some of the books I've listed above will eventually go out of print. Plus new books are being published all the time. How can you find great nonfiction books in the future? Keep an eye on these lists:  
AAAS/Subaru Prizes for Excellence in Science Books
ALA Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
CA Reading Association Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Award
Cook Prize for STEM Picture Book
Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices List
Cybils Nonfiction for Middle Grade & Young Adult
Cybils Nonfiction Picture Books
NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
And that's it!


Monday, June 16, 2014

See You in September

As the 2013-2014 school year winds to a close, I'm gearing up for a summer of full-immersion writing. I can't wait to dig in to my WIP and really figure it out.

Happy Summer, Everyone!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Fun: Am I Famous?

At the end of my school visit programs, I leave about 10 minutes for Q & A. Students ask me where I get my ideas, how I became a writer, what inspires me, how old I was when I published my first book, which of the books I've written is my favorite. The usual stuff.

Sometimes they ask questions that make their teachers uncomfortable. They ask how old I am and how much money I make. I tell them my age without hesitation. After all they're just trying to figure out what kind of future might be possible for them. My income varies a lot from year to year. And even if I gave them a number, it wouldn't mean much to them because they don't understand how much things like a mortgage and food cost. I do tell them that for some books I get a lump sum up front (work for hire). And for some books, I get a small amount up front and a few cents for each book that sells (royalties).

If they aren't satisfied with my answer. They ask if I live in a mansion or what kind of car I drive. Those questions are easy to answer--no (I often have a picture of my 1,200 sq. ft. ranch to show them) and a Toyota Corolla.

Another question they ask a lot is: "Are you famous?" I hate this question because I never know what to say. I usually say that fame just means that someone is "known", so now that I've met them, they are famous to me and I am famous to them.

This answer does NOT satisfy them.

So I'm still working on an answer. But I will tell you this. For just an instant, as I pulled into Pollard School in New Hampshire and saw this sign with my name in big letters, I thought maybe I should just give curious kids a simple answer: YES!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Behind the Books: On the Cutting Room Floor

If you’ve seen the Revision Timeline I created for No Monkeys, No Chocolate, then you have a good idea of the path I took as I wrote and revised the manuscript and what information did and didn’t make it into the book.

During school visits this spring, students have asked me about my revision process for Feathers: Not Just for Flying and if there were any examples in early versions of the manuscript that didn’t make it into the final book.

The answer is . . .  Yes! Here are a few examples:

A horned grebe usually eats fish, frogs, and insects, but sometimes it snacks on something surprising—its own feathers. As the feathers break down, they form a felt-like material that lines the bird’s stomach and pads it from sharp fish bones.

A honey buzzard’s favorite foods are bees and wasps. Tightly overlapping feathers protect the bird’s face from painful stings.

An owl depends on its super-sharp hearing to track down its dinner. Feathers on the sides of its head collect sounds and funnel them into its ears.

How does a male ruffed grouse attract a mate? He braces his body with his strong tail feathers and pumps his wings up and down. The drumming sound lets nearby females know exactly where he is.
These are great examples, but I'm glad we whittled down the list. It allowed more space for illustrator Sarah S. Brannen's beautiful illustrations.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Deadliest Animals: Putting It All Together, Part 2

To round out my discussion of Deadliest Animals, I’m providing some more examples of how the book changed during the design and layout process. I’ll also resolve the issue I first discussed back in May—how to end the book. The editors and I were struggling with that at the manuscript revision stage and decided to figure it out when we saw the layout.

In the crocodile spread, the two okay photos were replaced by a great image of a croc hunting. The designer also beefed up the Death Toll sidebar by creating a tombstone icon.

The final shark spread is much more dynamic. On the left, the reader feels closer to the shark’s deadly tooth-filled mouth. The bite out of the surfboard makes us wonder what happened to the person riding the board, and I love how the round tooth close-up nestles into the gaping hole in the surfboard.

When I saw the frog spread in the first layout, I liked it. Bu the final version is even better. I love the life-sized frog and the new skull-and-bones icon for the Toxic Tidbit sidebar.

And finally, we have the mosquito spread. The folks at NG decided to go cut the new first paragraph I had written, so there’s plenty of room for that awesome color micrograph. They also replaced the okay photo on the right with an image in which blood is clearly visible inside the insect’s body. I think it’s a much more interesting image. What do you think?

Sometimes a few last minute changes are made after everyone has reviewed the final layout, but in this case, I couldn’t find any differences at all.

The computer file with the layout was sent to the printer, and a few months later, I received copies of the bound book.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: What did the comet say as it whizzed past Uranus?
A: How about giving me a ring sometime?

Q: Why is Neptune so blue?
A: Because it wants to be closer to its Sun.

Q: What kind of doughnuts do dwarf planets like best?
A: Munchkins.

Q: Why is Earth glad to be so far away from Jupiter?
A: Because Jupiter is such a gassy planet.

Q: Why didn’t the moon have ice cream for dessert?
A: It was too full.

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