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Welcome to the World: A Keepsake Baby Book by Marfé Ferguson Delano (National Geographic) The Truth about Poop and Pee, by Susan E. Goodman (Penguin), a new edition that brings together two of her best-selling books. A Home for Mr. Emerson, by Barbara Kerley (Scholastic) Deborah Heiligman will be speaking at the Virginia Festival of the Book March 21-23 Anna Lewis, author of Women of Steel and Stone: 22 Inspiring Architects, Engineers, and Landscape Designers, will be speaking at the Bellefonte, PA Art Museum on March 22, which has installed a large Anna Keichline exhibit. The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest--and Most Surprising--Animals on Earth, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins (HMH) • The Horn Book 2013 Fanfare List of the Best Books for Young People • Book Links Top 30 Titles from 2013 • Junior Library Guild Top 10 Books for Youth 2013 Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors by Tanya Lee Stone (Henry Holt) The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos, by Deborah Heiligman. (Roaring Brook) • Orbis Pictus Honor Book • Book Links Top 30 Titles from 2013 Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives, by Elizabeth Rusch. (HMH) • Book Links Top 30 Titles from 2013 Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers, by Tanya Lee Stone. (Candlewick) • Book Links Top 30 Titles from 2013 The Nature Generation has announced the shortlist for its 2014 Green Earth Book Awards. The award honors authors whose books best convey the environmental stewardship message to youth. Eat Like a Bear, by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (Henry Holt) Here Come the Humpbacks, by April Pulley Sayre (Charlesbridge) No Monkeys, No Chocolate, by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young(Charlesbridge) A Place for Turtles, by Melissa Stewart(Peachtree Publishers)
My “inner blogger,” which I discovered six years ago when Linda Salzman started this blog, is now in full flower at the Huffington Post. Since September I’ve tried to post twice a week. My initial mission was to add my two cents to the national discussion on education. But a second mission has emerged—to shed light for the general public on our genre, children’s nonfiction literature. To that end I’ve requested that my colleagues send me their most recent books. I read them and write posts that show a book’s timeliness to current events or where it fits into the curriculum. I am not a book reviewer as all of my posts are unabashed cheers for the brilliance of these authors. As an author, myself, there is a conflict of interest for me to act as a critic. But I have no problem endorsing the creativity and insights of my fellow authors.
The adoption of the Common Core State Standards has created an opening for public awareness of our genre. It has helped to create a readership for this blog. When I first read the CCS standards, I saw them as an opportunity for teachers and educators to bring their own passions and creativity to classrooms through, among other things, the use of our books. Children need to know there are many voices out there so they can develop voices of their own. But this opening for diversity has been hi-jacked by standardized testing and the demand that teachers constantly document how they are meeting the CCSS—yet another chore that competes with instructional time. One of the more absurd examples of the implementation of the CCSS is the lesson on close reading of the Gettysburg Address by focusing on text only, with no background knowledge of the Civil War. Diane Ravitch is leading a movement against the CCSS. I’ve been a faithful subscriber to her amazing blog (she posts 5,6,7 times a day!) and she and her followers are gaining traction. Meanwhile, NY State, for example has a huge contract with Pearson for their textbooks and their texts. Granted, they and McGraw Hill and other textbook publishers are buying rights to our books to excerpt in their publications (and/or in the tests themselves) along with lesson plans making nice, convenient packages for harried teachers and furthering the notion that their books are the only books kids need to read to pass the tests, although their ethics in this are currently being questioned (in the example I've linked above). My intent through my Huff Post blogis to join Diane's fight against the huge corporations that have dominated classroom reading for many years, the standardized teaching and testing and their ties to teacher evaluation. Instead of emphasizing the horrors of turning teachers in to robots, all teaching the same page at the same time, I want to show the exciting alternatives that our genre offers. So I invite the readership of this blog to join me. This means you need to use social media to spread the word. So "follow," "tweet," "share," and "like." It's the way business is being done these days. So many people out there are still unaware of our existence. This is one positive way we can all help save public education.
I’m showing you the covers of the books I've given a shout-out to, so far. The titles below the images are links to my posts. Please join the "resistance" and spread the word.
In the post that went live last Thursday (Here Come the HUMPBACKS!), I featured April’s three recent picture books. I gave a shout-out to all of us who write for this blog and on the iNK website. Keep those (virtual) cards and letters coming!!!
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At the end of March, I’ll be flying to Michigan to receive the Mitten Award from the Michigan Library Association. The award is for a book (“Dogs on Duty: Soldiers’ Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond”) that does a good job of communicating information to its target audience. I work hard to achieve that goal, so I feel honored to receive this award. At the conference I will also be giving a keynote address, which has gotten me thinking: What topic is especially appropriate for a keynote? This question has been wandering around in my head for a while, and I’ve finally decided on the answer for me, at this time in my career. A nonfiction writer is a person who loves learning new information and feels the urge to communicate the fascinating information she/he has learned to other people. We go through the years finding intriguing topics, enjoying our research, and putting it all together in a form we hope will inspire and engross our readers. We learn a lot, meet all sorts of experts, and probably visit some fascinating locales. But I realize now that we do so much for ourselves in the process of being dedicated to looking for truth and communicating our knowledge to others. This work helps make us be more open in a number of ways. We learn to explore all sides of a topic, to investigate different versions of the “facts,” and to communicate the complexities of “there are no simple answers” to our audience in clear, nonjudgmental language. I think nonjudgmental is a big part. Years ago I wrote “Where the Wild Horses Roam,” about wild horses in the West. There were, and still are, big controversies about these animals. To some, they are a symbol of wildness, an integral part of the history of the American west that must be honored and protected. To others, like ranchers who purchase grazing leases on the public lands that house the horses, these equines are not just a damn nuisance, they steal the vital and sometimes sparse food their cattle need to fatten up and provide income for the ranchers. I did my best to express the concerns of both sides and shrugged. “If both ranchers and horse advocates hate me after reading this, I’ll know the book is good.” But I was wrong—both sides appreciated what I wrote because I stated each side of the story accurately and without any evaluative language. They just wanted to be heard. I try to keep that lesson in mind whenever I write about a potentially controversial topic. “Just the facts, ma’am” has become my mantra.
That's just one example of the unexpected bonuses I've received from this work. Now, after more than 40 years in this business, I realize how much of value I’ve learned, not just the facts and theories, the interactions and exceptions, but also the variety of it all—so many cultures, so many ways of seeing the world and of being in the world, so much glorious variety in Nature. So, as you can imagine, I’m nowhere near finished yet. I want to continue learning and communicating as I keep finding more and more intriguing stories available for exploration.
Illustrating Mumbet was a truly great experience for me. I was honored to be part of a truly inspiring story about an American pioneer whose story has been rediscovered. I would like to thank/dedicate this interview to New York Public Library librarian Maira Liriano. Without Maira’s love, support, and professionalism I would not have been able to produce the level of work I did for Mumbet. Thank you Maira. What attracted you to the story of Mumbet?
I was immediately attracted to the story of Mumbet because of her courage, the courage it must have taken for her to approach Mr. Ashley’s own lawyer to represent her against Mr. Ashley who happened to be the richest man in town. I was also attracted to Mumbet because she did not see her life as less than, even though she was born a slave. To have the imagination to secure her freedom was a great inspiration for me to be part of this amazing story.
You traveled to Massachusetts to research the story. What you look for?
After reading the story I started to research Mumbet’s life and discovered that the home she was a slave in, has been turned into a museum. I thought the best way to bring authenticity to her story was to visit the place she called home. I also went to the cemetery to see her tombstone. I wanted to take in as much of the landscape as possible to incorporate the natural environment that I imagine Mumbet experienced.
How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
The cover was a joint effort between Carolrhoda editor Andrew Karre, art director Zachary Marell, and myself. We agreed that the cover should depict a strong and determined portrait of Mumbet. I painted the cover portrait with the words resilient, intelligent, brave, pioneer, and humbled in the back of my mind to try to illustrate Mumbet’s personality and character. Nearly every page has at least a bit of landscape in it. What were you trying to express with this?
I think the landscape of Massachusetts was particularly important in Mumbet’s story. I feel the landscape represented her strength, vulnerability and hopeful spirit. The words in the story also influenced my decision to include a lot of the landscape in Mumbet: references about how Mumbet associated the water flowing down the river with being free, and references about how the ice, snow, etc could not wear down a mountain. It seems to me that nature was a big inspiration to her to be free.
Your colors look so Caribbean! Are you influenced by your Haitian heritage? I love colors and love to paint colorfully. My colors are influenced by my Haitian/Caribbean heritage, but also from living in Harlem. I grew up in Harlem in the 1980’s. In those days colors were everywhere and I must have absorbed a lot of the colors that I saw. I loved to walk through Harlem’s 125 Street and take in all the African/Caribbean styles and colors that were all around me. Who are your favorite artists?
The list of artists that influence me is endless. But some of the artists that stand out immediately to me are Aaron Douglas, Edward Hopper, and Claude Monet. I love Edward Hopper’s compositions, and love the use of colors in the works of Aaron Douglass and Claude Monet. Some of the illustrators I am influenced by are John Steptoe and Leo & Diane Dillon.
You’ve lived in New York City since you were a child. What do you think of New York and the opportunities for an artist there? I think many opportunities exist for artists in NYC, even though there are many artists here. Ultimately you have to learn how to make your work stand out and be true to yourself. While there are many opportunities here in NYC for aspiring artists, artists have to make their own opportunities as well. For example, my first book deal came as a result of going to different book fairs and following up with contacts I was lucky enough to make with some of the editors. Opportunities exist in NYC, but hard work and flexibility is ultimately what worked for me.
The topics of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and Girls in Engineering have received a lot of press this past year. Yes, we need more girls participating in STEM industries. Yes, we need more girls studying STEM topics in high school and college. Yes, parents, schools, and society need to support all young people pursuing STEM fields. I continue to be amazed every time I hear the facts: “American students score 23rd in math and 31st in science when compared with 65 other top industrial countries. In math, we are beaten by countries from Lichtenstein and Slovakia to the Netherlands and Singapore. In science, we are beaten by countries from New Zealand and Estonia to Finland and Hungary.” (From a CNN 2012 article).
Tomorrow, February 22, 2014, a memorial service is being held at the Golden Gate Yacht club in San Francisco for Ruth Gordon Schnapp who died on January 1, 2014. My heart is filled with great loss - as well as pride, in the fact that Ruth's amazing life story will live on in my book for young readers. Also, today marks the last day of Engineering Week, with the exciting Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day this Thursday.
Discover E explains it best on their website:
Engineers Week—the only event of its kind—is a time to:
Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day:
- Celebrate how engineers make a difference in our world
- Increase public dialogue about the need for engineers
- Bring engineering to life for kids, educators, and parents
- Girl Day is a movement that shows girls how creative and collaborative engineering is and how engineers are changing our world. With hundreds of events happening each year, together we are driving the conversation about girls and engineering.
- Host a Girl Day event and make a difference to the girls (and their moms) in your community.
Ruth Gordon Schnapp is one of the 22 inspirational women that I wrote about in Women of Steel and Stone
. As we talk about the lack of women in STEM fields, we should be supporting and promoting the achievements of the women who have paved the way. Beginning my research, I googled Top Architects. What surprised me was that on one particular list of Top 100 Architects there were only two women. Two women out of 100 architects? Those odds seemed shockingly way off. In my further research, I uncovered several amazing women in architecture, engineering, and landscape architecture whose stories needed to be told and were over looked. Young readers needed to hear about these inspiring stories. As Ruth’s health was failing, the family asked me to write an obituary for their mother. The press did not pick up on the news story of her passing. So, to celebrate Ruth Gordon Schnapp’s life and to promote Engineering Week, I thought I’d share the obituary that I wrote.
Ruth Gordon Schnapp
First woman structural engineer in the state of California and women’s rights advocate
Ruth Gordon Schnapp, the first female structural engineer in the state California, played pioneering roles in increasing the number of women in engineering fields, as well as improving the safety of hundreds of hospitals, schools, and other buildings.
Mrs. Schnapp, 87, who had a passion for math that led her to a 41-year structural engineering career that included building safer schools and hospitals in California, died January 1, 2014, in Los Banos, Calif.
Her first job was with the San Francisco structural engineering office of Isadore Thompson, after being rejected by several companies who told her, “We don’t hire women engineers.” Thompson told Schnapp that he didn’t care if she was green, just as long as she could do the job. Schnapp also worked for engineering firms Bechtel and Western Knapp before her 29-year career for the State of California. Schnapp opened her own business, Pegasus Engineering, in 1984 and retired in 2001.
Schnapp’s parents, Solomon and Lea Gordon, were Lithuanian immigrants who first settled in Dallas where her sister, Clara, was born. After that, the family moved to Seattle where Schnapp was born on September 19, 1926. Excelling in school, Schnapp said she often saved her math homework for dessert because it was the most fun. She dreamed of becoming a concert pianist, but her parents cautioned her against her following her dream, stating: “You never can tell what’s going to happen. You have to study something for which you can make a living.” In 1942, most parents were encouraging their daughters to marry and have children.
Not knowing what an engineer did except that it involved math, Schnapp chose that path. After she was accepted to Stanford, she had to first find out where it was. During her summer breaks, she worked for Boeing in Seattle, one summer participating in structural engineering changes to the B-17 bomber. When World War II ended, she was forced to take a typing job with the company at a lower pay. According to Schnapp, just to spite Boeing and its sexism, she was the slowest typist they ever had.
Schnapp was the only woman to graduate from Stanford in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. With the support of her male professors, she went on to earn her master’s degree in structural engineering in 1950.
Starting in 1953, after receiving her civil engineer state license, Schnapp worked for the state of California for 29 years, designing and constructing school buildings to make them more earthquake resistant.
In 1959, Schnapp passed the test for her structural engineering license — 20 years before another woman would earn that license. Schnapp loved structural engineering, and she especially loved being out in the field. She traveled a seven-county area of Southern California, checking schools, hospitals and other construction projects. Some of Schnapp’s more high-profile projects were the San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Asian Art Museum, San Quentin Prison, Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco General Hospital, and the Marin General Hospital.
She married Michael Schnapp in 1950. The ceremony was performed in the old house of Lillian Gilbreth, the mother in Cheaper by the Dozen, another famous industrial engineer and role model for girls in those fields. Michael died in ____.
With their mutual love of boats, the Schnapps bought a 26-foot-long sailboat and started racing. In 2001, she received the Yachtsman of the Year Award from the Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association. For many years, the Golden Gate Yacht Club has held the Ruth Gordon Schnapp Regatta.
Schnapp’s daughter Madeline explained, “One of the reasons my mother was able to do the things she did was because she had a wonderful support system at home and didn't have to worry about how her children were faring while she was away at work. Nydia Rosa was part of the Schnapp family for over 50 years, first helping with the children, and then more administrative tasks as the children grew. About six years ago, Nydia returned to the family to take care of my mother during her declining years.”
Some of Schnapp’s many accolades include being named the first woman member of Structural Engineers Association of Northern California in 1953; the first woman president of the Bay Area Engineering Council in 1982-83; and the first woman to receive a Tau Beta Pi’s Eminent Engineer Award in 1995. A staunch advocate of women’s rights, in 1980, Schnapp took part in a public demonstration at the Pacific Stock Exchange, during which she chained herself to the building for five hours to protest gender discrimination.
After retiring in 2001, Schnapp traveled the U.S., lecturing students about at a long list of schools. She said, “I became very much interested in helping women and encouraging women to be sure to study math and science.”
Fittingly, Schnapp’s story will continue to serve as a role model in a new book for young adults just released last week, Women of Steel and Stone by Anna M. Lewis. Schnapp is one of 22 inspirational women architects, engineers, and landscape architects profiled in the book, excepts from that book have been included here.
Her sister, Clara Gordon Rubin, who died in 2002, was also a supporter of women’s rights and fought to improve gender equality among civil service workers in Seattle for four decades.
She is survived by her three children, Madeline, Marcia and Michael, and several grandchildren.
Thank you, Ruth, for all the girl engineers that have followed your lead and for the young girls you will inspire to build great things.
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After four years in the making, I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that my new book, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
has just been published. I’ve been waiting for this month with anxious anticipation. Now that it's here I’m walking on air, soaking in all the love, care, and respect sent out to the six teens that participated in the book.
Usually my YA books have black and white photographs peppered throughout the text. But this time they are mostly in color and are a finely integrated part of each chapter.
Each teenager in the book is individual and distinct. They know who they are and what they need. They certainly know who they are not. My role was to represent these awesome kids through words and photographs.
One person in the book preferred not to have photographs at all, and another person’s mother did not want her son’s face shown. That left four chapters that needed separate photo essays.
The first teen I met was Jessy, who had just begun taking hormone therapy. I thought, and he agreed, that it would be interesting to photograph him every two weeks as his transition progressed. This is the first photo, taken with my cell phone because it never occurred to me that our first meeting would include a photo shoot. I referred to Jessy’s photo essay as
“Transition.” They are very casual and mostly shot in natural light.
This is from the final set of photographs of Jessy's transition at the time I turned in the book. In my view - and the art director’s - camera and lighting are somewhat better than the one with my iPhone.
The second person I interviewed was Christina. Christina loves to shop and is very, very good at it. I trailed along, feeling quite dumpy, as she methodically, elegantly went through every rack. We did two shoots, one when she was a strawberry blond and another when she was a brunette. This essay is called “Shopping Spree.”
Cameron, the third photo essay in the book, did a great job explaining gender fluidity. We decided that it would be best to “show AND tell.” I set up my studio with a crumpled white cloth background and large strobes that I usually use when photographing dancers. Cameron carried bags of clothing to my sixth floor walk-up studio. We did two sets of studio photography. This is “Variables.”
Nat, the fourth essay, is a fine artist and a wonderful violinist. We wanted to do something that married intellect and art. And that to me is Black and White photography. I suggested that I photograph them [Nat’s pronoun of choice] in the tradition of André Kertész
, 1894 -1985, a photographer whom I greatly admire. Kertész focused on patterns, angles and space. Nat and I went up on the High Line early in the mornings when all the tourists were asleep in their beds. We did our interpretation of a Kertész photo essay. It became “The Long Road with Musical Interludes.”
The last chapter is devoted to Luke, [not his real name] a marvelous poet and actor. Luke’s mother did not want her son’s real name or face revealed in the book. When Luke is onstage he’s a whirlybird. So I slowed down the camera and let his movement compliment his personality. Although his is not a true photo essay, the images are not like the other chapters.
This structure is not explicitly described in Beyond Magenta. But it's layers like these that add (subliminal) depth to our books. No one knows it, unless posted, but it's there. One of the pleasures reading INK is to learn the backstory, the layers, that go into creating books.
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I do love writing. I love being an author. But let me say, it feels really, really good to be back behind the camera. I continue to photograph Jessy and Christina as they grow into stunning adults.
Oh, I know how it is - so soon after Valentine's Day, but here it is: Happy Presidents Day, INKsters! Insofar as it celebrates our nation's history as represented by our unbroken chain of elected executives, this holiday is second only to Independence Day in its importance to our democratic republic.
Whether or not you'll be playing and marching in a band or doing last minute touches on your float or costume, enjoy your community's parades today and the fireworks tonight! Before this special day comes to an end, it's likely that you'll be gathered with your dear ones, sharing the usual Presidents' Day delicacies, such as hot dogs, like the ones FDR offered to Great Britain's royal couple in the summer of 1939, but if I were you, I'd skip the cottage cheese-and-ketchup, a favorite of Richard Nixon. For dessert? Maybe Ronald Reagan's jelly beans, but there's got to ice cream and of course, cherry pie, which has come to represent our presidential pathfinder, George Washington.
But mind your portions - else you'll wind up like President Taft!
And if you're inclined and of age, do be having a celebratory sip of hard cider. As John Adams
wrote in 1765, "I drank this morning and yesterday morning about a gill* of cider; it seems to do me good." Harry Truman
felt the same way about his breakfast shot of bourbon and FDR
about his late afternoon martini. But I digress *about 1/4 of a pint
It's become customary for Americans to have their P. Day dinner while watching the annual White House Concert. As usual it will feature live broadcasts from some of the nation's many lighthearted and colorful Presidential/First Family Look-Alike contests, as well as the much-awaited announcement of this year's winner of the Presidential Essay Competition. Who will be covered with glory, patriotic and intellectual honors, the $5,000 cash prize, AND the invitation to the White House?
Knowing that you share my love of American history – and if you're reading this, I'd bet money that you do – you may well have long since written and contributed your own entry,
your own considered take on this year's topic: The President We Most Need Today. If I'd written one - if there was any such event - I reckon I'd lean toward presidents who championed public education. Ike, for instance, the steely ex-general with the sunny smile.For further thoughts on this issue, here's a good start.
|dated, but still a popular primer|
on the presidents, their
House, and the presidency itself.
Because it's a worthy topic in this, our real, anxious, too-cool-for-school world, that has no such festive Presidents Day and never shall. Maybe just as well, given how money-corrupted the whole elective and legislative process has become, how it has so tarnished the Founders' Dream. Doesn't mean it's to be discarded, not celebrated. It only means it's to be clung to and fought for all the harder. The topic's been a hot one even before there was a republic for which we stand and throughout the days and years of our ever-contentious nation What should be the role of our central government in our lives, in our classrooms? What are we prepared to do in order to be what we intend to be, asindividuals and as a nation? For one thing, read. Know what and who we've been, those whom we've championed to hold the standard.
Meanwhile, I need to go make sure to display my American Flag (the subject of my next book - did I tell you that? Did you know that 2014 makes 200 years since F.S.K. wrote his ode to the S.S'd. B.?), out by my front door because it's Presidents Day.
And long live the Republic. Read on.
As the story goes, for Archimedes, it was the moment he sank into his tub. For Newton, it was that falling apple. Eureka! Aha! In a flash, the answers (displacement and gravity) became clear. To Archimedes and Newton, anyway. For them, that lightning bolt of understanding was accompanied by joy and amazement. Other people, half as brilliant or educated, might have simply thought, “Oy, I hope the water doesn’t overflow” or “Ouch, that’s what I get for sitting under a fruit tree.”
I’ve been mulling over Eureka moments lately. Products of pioneering thinkers like Archimedes’ and Newton’s may corner the market, but epiphanies come in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t always have to be and original discovery that leads to Eureka. A gifted explanation can go a long way to create an aha moment for others.
An example was when physicist Richard Feynman appeared before the Senate Committee hearing convened to figure out what caused the Challenger Disaster. If you remember, the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff in 1986, killing all aboard. The question was why and everyone dithered about it for months. During his testimony, Feynman revealed the problem in moments. He used a C-clamp to bend the type of rubber O-ring used to seal joints in the rocket, then plunked it into his glass of ice water. He pulled it out, unscrewed the clamp and showed how the now 32-degree rubber was too cold to bend for valuable seconds. It had been 32 degrees on launch day. No effective seal, leaking gas, fire, death.
Was this an epiphany for Feynman? I have no idea; it might have just been a satisfying, logical conclusion. But for the people who wanted to know what happened and couldn’t assemble, sort and understand all the factors, it was a mind blower. QED, game over.
As nonfiction writers, and especially as nonfiction writers for kids, wouldn’t it be great to be able to create aha moments for our readers and open up new parts of the world to them? Sorry, I wish I could simply print the recipe at the bottom of the page.
The best I do is guess about the necessary ingredients. Here are a few I’ve been thinking about:
1. Curiosity—not just coming up with facts, but also a compulsion to flip them over in your mind and study them from every angle.
2. Wonder—wondering about situation and having a sense of wonder about it so you might be able to get some poetry into the mix when you try to get the idea across.
3. Expansion—somehow leaving enough room for a reader to get invested and involved and find his or her discovery amidst your own.
Anybody have a few more suggestions? I’d love to hear (and use!) them.
BEYOND MAGENTA: TRANSGENDER TEENS SPEAK OUT by Susan Kuklin (Candlewick)
FEATHERS: NOT JUST FOR FLYING, by Melissa Stewart, ill. by Sarah S. Brannen (Charlesbridge)
MUMBET’S DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE by Gretchen Woelfle, ill. by Alix Delinois (Carolrhoda)
Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius Finalists for the Cook Prize for the Best STEM Picture Book: Deborah Heiligman, The Boy Who Loved Math Melissa Stewart, No Monkeys, No Chocolate Finalist YALSA award for Excellence in NF for YA Tanya Lee Stone, Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius Deborah Heiligman, The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdös Elizabeth Rusch, Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives April Pulley Sayre, ill. Steve Jenkins, Eat Like a Bear Steve Sheinkin, Lincoln's Grave Robbers Tanya Lee Stone, Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers Friday, February 7, Cheryl Harness will be speaking on “Creating Books for Young TimeTravelers” in Denver at the Colorado Council of the International Reading Association. Saturday, February 8, Kelly Hall Milner, along with Kathleen Krull and Cindy Jenson-Elliott will address “Nonfiction v Common Core” at the California School Library Association Conference in San Diego.
Same day, same place, Gretchen Woelfle and Alexis O’Neill will talk about “Turning History into Story.”
Early last year, my editor asked if I would be interested in taking on a project very different from the narrative nonfiction books I've written. She asked if I would like to write the text for a baby book, a keepsake baby book, the kind in which parents can record the highlights of their baby's arrival and growth. But instead of being illustrated with the usual pastel drawings of bunnies, etc., this book would be filled with gorgeous photographs. The text needed to be lyrical and inspirational, with strong visual elements, she advised, and oh yes, it should also celebrate the natural world.
It was tall order! And it was unlike anything I'd done before. But it sounded like a great opportunity to stretch and challenge myself--not to mention earn some dough--so I took a deep breath and said yes to WELCOME TO THE WORLD: A KEEPSAKE BABY BOOK (National Geographic, March 4, 2014). I'm glad I did. Working on this book was a joy, from brainstorming with the editorial and design team, to looking through my own children's baby books and recalling their infancy and toddlerhood. I explored my feelings about motherhood and thought about my hopes and dreams for my children (now grown). I thought about my parents (both still going strong, I'm happy to say!) and my own childhood. I pondered the wonders of our world and tracked down--and verified--inspirational quotes to sprinkle through the book. Most gratifying, I discovered my poetic side as I crafted the text. My goal was to go beyond the traditional journal style of most baby books. I wanted to connect the birth and early days of a child's life to the beauty and wonders and possibilities of this amazing world we live in. I tried to do this with my text, but ultimately it's the stunning photographs--selected by Lori Epstein, a brilliant photo editor and very talented photographer in her own right--that really make this book special. The photos Lori selected not only delight the eye, they enhance and expand my words, creating layers of meaning I didn't even realize were there until I saw the pictures and words together. Some of them make me laugh out loud. Some bring tears to my eyes. It took a team of us to create and give birth to WELCOME TO THE WORLD. I can't wait to see how it fares.
Sometimes I get the feeling that any change in educational policy doesn’t matter to the providers of educational materials as long as change
is mandated. Publishers of texts and testing products make money no matter what. The objective of No Child Left Behind was basic literacy for all, period. So the emphasis was on decoding skills. It set the bar very low and generated lots of new materials to teach phonics, etc. Now we have the Common Core State Standards which redefine an educated person as someone who can read a text and figure out the main idea, how it was put together by the author, and how knowledge and ideas are integrated. Moreover, students are supposed to incorporate these standards into their own writing. The pushback from the educational community is that now the bar is set too high; especially in light of the new standardized tests that show kids failing
as expected. Veteran educations shake their heads in bewilderment. They know better than most that there is no single panacea for delivering high quality education. Just ‘cause you state it as policy, doesn’t mean it will happen.
|Vicki Cobb and Lucy Calkins|
One such veteran educator is Lucy Calkins of Columbia’s Teachers College who is the founder and director of The Columbia Reading and WritingProject
. She is an outspoken champion of the CCSS. She sees it as an opportunity to introduce students to a wealth of nonfiction literature about the real world and she spoke about it at a TC event last week, which I attended. After decades of imposing rules and packaged lesson plans on teachers, of bashing teachers as the primary problem with education, of sucking the joy of learning out of the classroom, and of attempting to standardize teaching as if children were widgets in a factory, some of us see the CCSS as an opportunity to bring creativity, collaboration, and autonomy back to the teaching profession.
Let’s hope it’s not too late. Enter the realityof a teacher’s day
. The stress is enormous and now they have to do a great deal of paperwork to justify exactly how they are meeting the CCSS. Their jobs are now dependent on how well their students perform on the standardized test. Many gifted teachers are speaking up
or throwing in the towel
. Lucy Calkins sees the CCSS as an opening for many approaches to instruction and a diverse curriculum—the opposite of standardization. Since businesses now say they want creative, self-starting, innovative workers, we have to allow teachers to go back to being creative innovators themselves. We also have to experiment with different approaches and ideas with the understanding that some will prove better and others and that not everything that is done will be a home run. In other words, educators, themselves, need room to learn and grow.
The Columbia Reading and Writing Program states
, " ‘the Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach’ (CCSS, p 6). What's needed is an all-hands-on-deck effort to study how best to create pathways to achieve the Common Core. There will be no one 'right answer' to the question of how a school or a district needs to shift its priorities and methods so as to bring its students closer to the expectations of the Common Core, as schools and classrooms will come from different places and will have different resources to draw upon.”
Teachers need interesting, well-written materials for the curriculum subjects they teach. They can also teach reading and writing skills through “mentor” books that are about content. In addition to books, teachers also need strategies for using books that don’t come with lesson plans. They need support from curriculum people and from each other. If the skills of the Common Core are our destination, (and there is no question that we’d have a very well educated nation if everyone met them) we need ways to implement them and try them out. In other words, we need time to develop road maps through uncharted territory and stop asking, like an annoying passenger, “are we there yet?”
OK history buffs (or non-history buffs) - which of the following wild assertions just so happen to be true and which ones are false? Since I have to write about this stuff all the time, I actually know the answers and don’t have to look them up. See how many you already know….TRUE OR FALSE:
1) Ben Franklin invented the fan chair, which was a rocking chair with a fan on top to blow away flies.
2) Ben invented a musical instrument that caused dogs to run away and hide and also made people think there were ghosts in their room.
3) Pocahontas was bald.
4) She taught her boyfriend, John Smith, how to smoke tobacco.
5) Before being captured and enslaved, John Smith won a Turkish fortress by making a bunch of explosives and catapulting them into the Turks’ camp while they slept.
6) George Washington always wore a white wig in public, even as a child.
7) George Washington chopped down a cherry tree, and when his dad asked him about it, he said “I cannot tell a lie, pa. I did it with my little ax.”
8) George Washington had scars on his face from a duel.
9) During the California Gold Rush, a single piece of paper cost $150 but you could get 12 shirts washed and ironed at the Chinese Laundry for $3.
10) During this gold rush, cooks regularly checked chicken gizzards for small gold nuggets.
11) Frenzied gold seekers from 37 different countries rushed lickety-split straight toward California to seek their fortunes.
12) Cowboys traveling on The Old Chisholm Trail used to cross the muddy rivers by running on their cows backs.
13) The trail was finally closed by barbed wire.
14) Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on the very same day just a few hours apart, and they didn’t always get along with their dads.
15) When Charles Darwin journeyed around the world by ship, he caught a giant octopus and sent it back to England for scientists to study.
16) Charles Darwin used to ride on horseback with a wild Gaucho cavalry, ride on the backs of gigantic tortoises, and ride in a box on the back of an elephant in true Indian fashion.
17) In Salem Massachusetts, some people made medicine by combining boiled snippets of children’s hair, spirits of mummies, and the brains of young men who had died a violent death.
18) During the Salem Witch Trials, nineteen people were burned for the crime of witchcraft.
19) During this time, people of all ages were accused of turning into a ball of light the size of a bushel basket, choking a woman with nails and eggs, stupefying a boy for 12 years, making a wagon plump down into a hole on flat ground, and killing victims with their evil “eye beams.” (A ghost said so.)
AND THE ANSWERS ARE:
1) False, but he did have such a chair inside his house.
2) True. It was called the glass armonica, and before it went out of style for hurting dogs' ears and sounding spooky during seances, it was so popular that Mozart and Beethoven wrote music for it.
3) True. Pre-pubescent Powhatan Indian girls shaved the tops of their heads, and Pocahontas was between 10 and 12 years old.
4) False. Of course she was way too young to be John Smith's girlfriend, and besides, he thought smoking tobacco was disgusting.
5) True, all true. He was also great at making fireworks.
6) False. George hated wigs even though they were in style. If he absolutely had to, he would powder his hair instead.
7) False. Parson Mason Locke Weems made up that fake story to get kids to tell the truth like their hero. Oh, the irony.
8) False. The scars were from smallpox.
9) All true.
10) True again. One time a chicken gizzard panned out at $12.80
11) False. They came from more than 70 countries and set off one of the greatest mass migrations in history.
12) Yup, that's true. Those guys had talent.
13) True. Barbed wire smarts if you're a traveling cow.
14) True. Their dads didn't seem to think they'd amount to much.
15) False, false, false. He did uncover plenty of humongous fossilized bones from extinct giant animals though.
16) True. Darwin perched these various backs in Argentina, the Galapagos, and the Isle of Mauritius.
17)True. Guilty as charged.
18) False. They were hanged, not burned. A 19th guy was pressed to death by stones.
19) True. People really did tell all of these bald-faced lies in court. AND THERE ARE NO WITCHES!!!
Didn't I tell you truth is stranger than fiction? So how did you do? Feel free to try this on your students, friends, and enemies, and if they get all the answers right I will send them a lollipop. (False.)
Barbara Kerley collated a list of suggested titles from some I.N.K. bloggers.
You can find it here.
Authors, illustrators, and publishers put a great deal of effort into the quest to interest readers in their books. Ideally, every nonfiction book should have a terrific title, intriguing information, sensational sentences, and interesting images (and by all means alliteration...only kidding about that last one!?) Because of the great response to my last post about nonfiction activities, I was inspired to focus this time on how to entice students to read a variety of informational texts. Recommendations from their peers is one of the primary ways that kids decide to read a book, so with that in mind, ask students to:
1. Choose a nonfiction book to recommend, place it on your desk, then tour the room for new reading options.
2. Share one sentence that gives an idea of what the book is about.
3. Compile a class book of reviews then explore classmates’ suggestions.
4. Prepare and present book talks to the class in the form of posters, presentations, or videos.
5. After discovering a good book, create a display of more works by the same author.
6. Choose one page in a book and list the facts the words tell, then the information shown by the pictures.
7. Redraw an illustration or other image and add labels and other info.
8. Find a favorite cover and explain how it summarizes the book.
9. Design a new cover for a book to persuade more kids to read it.
10. Compare two or more books on a topic using a Venn diagram.
Click for my Pinterest board
with nonfiction teaching ideas.
LoreenMy web site
My home is in beautiful Missoula, Montana, but my husband Greg (a food writer) and I decided to try something new. We became snowbirds, leaving home in late October and planning on returning in early April. At first we condo-hopped in Hawaii, but now are settled in Oceanside, CA, across the street from Del Mar beach.
Some writers need to work in their own familiar space or settle at a table in a familiar cafe near home to write. But Greg and I feel fortunate that we can write anywhere, as long as we have a few reference books and our trusty MacBooks. My nephew recently did some consulting for Microsoft and presented Greg with a sticker for his computer that declares "This is my office." I want one too!
I find working in a new location has its own rewards. The phone rarely rings, as no one knows this number. Our cell phones stay mostly silent, since we don't use them that often. That means fewer distractions. We don't have the usual social engagements either, or other appointments, so we have more time to write. The new location also means new experiences, like a variety of farmers' markets in surrounding communities with gorgeous greens and succulent citrus fruits, foods we can't get locally grown in Montana during the winter. We both feel healthier, not only from the food but also the sunlight and relative warmth.
There's also the stimulation of the writing instinct in a new place. Greg is inspired to devote his blog (www.thebakingwizard.com) to "unplugged" recipes, ones that don't require a food processor or mixer, since we don't have those things here. I find myself obsessed with photographing birds and brilliant sunsets over the Pacific, with the damp sand creating magical reflections of the glowing colors. Maybe I'll write a book about sunsets! Or about gulls, or maybe I'll revive my out-of-print book on pelicans.
When I take my afternoon break walking along the damp, firm surface of this beach, I feel I could walk forever. It's a form of meditation for me, allowing my mind to clear and to settle down. Then I can focus on prioritizing the many tasks large and small that go along with being a writer, or just "be." I can't do this at home in wintertime Montana, where it can be too icy or too cold to walk and where the sky during the short days is almost always an uninviting gray. But as I enjoy looking out over the silvery sparkles of reflected sunlight on the waves, I look forward to Montana in the Spring, when fresh green sprouts push forth from the earth and the familiar birds, "snowbirds" like us, return to enjoy new life and creativity in that special place.
My latest book, Mumbet’sDeclaration of Independence, comes out on February 1. I’m always happy on pub dates, but this one feels especially good (thanks, PW) not least because of the book’s spectacular illustrations by Alix Delinois. He lives in New York, has done since he was seven. But he was born in Haiti, and Caribbean light and color shine all through the book and perfectly reflect the tone I tried to express in the text. I’m going to interview him for my February blog, so I won’t gush on now. I love writing about little-known people and I’m pleased that editors are publishing books about them. Every season sees more new heroes and heroines lining the lists. As for Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, I discovered her while researching Write on, Mercy! The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren. Not for the first time, research for one book led to the next one. Both Mercy (white and well-educated) and Mumbet (an illiterate slave) lived in Massachusetts during the American Revolution – Mercy in Plymouth, Mumbet in the Berkshires. Both used revolutionary fervor to advance their causes: Mercy, to write and publish her political views; Mumbet, to sue for her freedom. (This is a portrait painted on ivory, of Mumbet in old age. It's in the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.)
I try to bond with my subjects, and that often happens when I travel to their home territory. This was true with Mumbet. ‘Twas a frigid day of January that I was given a “Mumbet tour” in Sheffield and Stockbridge, Massachusetts by historian Barbara Dowling, then working for the Trustees of Reservations, the conversation group that owns Ashley House, where Mumbet spent her slave years. The house was closed for winter – it being colder indoors than out! – but Barbara opened it for me to poke around, searching for traces of Mumbet’s life there.
It's a comfortable, not grand, house, with a big hearth where Mumbet worked. I peeked up the chimney, stuck my arm into the baking oven, gazed into the small room off the kitchen when she probably slept. I climbed the narrow stairs that she climbed carrying refreshments to white men who discussed their fight for political freedom from the British. Outdoors, nearby Bartholomew’s Cobble, far-off Berkshire mountains, and the Housatonic River presented themselves as symbols of Mumbet’s strength and courage, and found their way into my book. A few miles away sits the imposing Sedgwick estate, home of her lawyer, where Mumbet worked for two decades as housekeeper and second mother to the seven Sedgwick children. She saved enough from her wages to buy a small farm in the hills outside Stockbridge, and retired there to live with her daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The house is gone, but I envisioned her, looking out over the Housatonic Valley that held a life's worth of memories. Her grave includes this epitaph written by Catharine Sedgwick, one of Mumbet’s charges:
She was born a slave and remained a slave for nearly thirty years.
She could neither read nor write yet in her own sphere she had no superior or equal. She neither wasted time nor property.
She never violated a trust nor failed to perform a duty.
In every situation of domestic trial,
she was the most efficient help, and the tenderest friend.
Good mother, farewell.
I ended Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence just after she sued her owner and [Spoiler Alert!] won her freedom. But she lived long after that, and her life led to me other African Americans of that era, and another book about worthy and under-reported lives. I included Mumbet’s later adventures there, but you’ll have to wait until 2015 to read those.
In the meantime, tune in next month to meet Alix Delinois, who also traveled to the Berkshires to bring Mumbet into view.
Anyone else sorely disappointed in the selection of books on the Winter Olympics? I sure am. I’ve been trying to put together something interesting for my K-3 crowd: a little bit of general history, some stand out biographies, and (if it’s not asking too much)a concise explanation of the actual winter events.
The pickings are certainly slim. As I search and search again, the most frequently viewed item is a fiction book about a certain penguin in a Hawaiian shirt named Tacky playing his own version of the Winter Games.
Where are the I.N.K. books on this subject? Isn’t this the kind of subject where non fiction should shine?
What’s going on here?
Only one book stands out to me, and I’ve been forced to rely on more than I would like.
Olympics by B. G. Hennessy.
Published in 1996.
Other than that, The Magic Tree House series does tackle the Ancient Games in one volume. It even has a non fiction companion "fact tracker" listing facts about Ancient Greece and the Olympics. It’s certainly possible an intrepid second grader could read it without falling asleep.
Next week lets wave our flags and pretend to bobsled on our sofas. And lets think about, and perhaps even start writing, some medal worthy books.
This week, Debbie Glade at Smart Books for Smart Kids reviewed my new book Women of Steel and Stone. The review can be found here.
Following the review, she asked if I would mind answering a few questions for the readers of her website. The questions got me thinking about why I wrote the book, the process, STEM, and girls in engineering fields. I thought INK readers would like to read a part of that interview. The full interview can be read on the Smart Books for Smart Kids website. I'll post the link as soon as it is live on the site. I also added a few extra questions and answers for the readers here. All the questions and answers can be read on my new website Anna M. Lewis.
How did you get the idea to write this book?My editor and I were going back and forth with proposal ideas in two different series - Activities for Kids and Women of Action. My degree is in Product/Industrial Design and I took several design history classes in college, so design was an area that interested me. Then, I found one website that listed the top 100 architects. There were only 2 women on the list – 2 women out of 100 architects. That didn’t sound right to me. I started researching women architects and found some amazing women whose stories hadn’t been told. From there, I also discovered several women engineers and landscape architects, and the book grew from there.
How did you come up with the women you featured in the book, and was it difficult to find the detailed information you needed about some of them? Each book in the Women of Action series has about 16 to 26 profiles, so I knew I had to have about that many women. My daughter's favorite number is 22, so I felt that I had to appease her and the karma gods and write about 22 women. That number worked perfectly. In forming the list, I basically had 7 women per category; which meant, 2 of the first in the field, 2 of the most current, and 3 in the middle. As it turned out, all the women I chose had interesting stories to tell. Every chapter had to have a compelling story to pull the reader in; otherwise the book would just be a rehash of wiki pages and facts. Some of the background stories had to be dug out, and I was digging for days. When I found an interesting story about a woman, it was almost like finding gold. Sometimes, after fact checking, a great story turned out to be not true. A popular book on Julia Morgan tells how she was dusting the family stairs and said that when she was older that she wouldn't design houses with spindly staircase rods that little girls would have to dust, and then she ran outside to play with her brothers. Many other sources also cited that story. It took some digging but I found a transcript of an interview with several family members and co-workers. I read through the entire entire interview and at one point the interviewer asked the family if that was true. They said, "No, Julia never said that." Great story but I couldn't use it… but I found other great pieces to use in that transcript. Julia was hard to research. After she was misquoted early in her career, she never gave another interview. She even instructed her staff to destroy all her papers after she retired. In the beginning, I asked the leaders and archivists of several engineering and architecture groups to review my list. I wanted to make sure that I didn't leave anyone out. Their suggestions were perfect. Did it strike you when researching and writing the biographies that the accomplishments of these women from long ago would be equally as impressive in today's world as they were back then? Three things stood out to me while writing the book. First, it has been over 125 years since Louise Bethune became the first female member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and women are still struggling to get noticed in that field. Second, all the women in my book had very supportive parents. Third, all the women chose architecture, engineering, and landscape architecture because they were drawn to those fields. To answer your question, yes. But also, it also surprised me that after 125 years, things haven’t changed much. Women are still having a difficult time in those fields. The recent petition that sought to highlight Denise Scott Brown’s accomplishments with the inclusion of her name on her husband's 1981 Pritzker Prize put this issue into the spotlight. While media took great note, the Pritzker Committee turned down the request.
In building our future, we need all our students involved in creating wonderful things.
Considering the limitations women in the 1800s and early 1900s had wearing such binding, layered clothing with long dresses and corsets, do you think just the change in the way we dress has made it more possible for women to work in male dominated fields? I don’t think the change in clothing was a large factor. Julia Morgan used to hike up her long skirt and climb up scaffolding, sometimes three stories high. Actually, the invention of the bicycle was a huge factor in the changes of a woman’s role in society. She was able to go to so many more places – without a chaperone, and her clothing loosened to allow her to ride. Society accepted this change with a few protests.
Honestly, the women in my book and their strong-willed desire to do something that they wanted to do broke down the barriers and showed that women could work in the same fields as men.
What's your next writing project? I’ve been going back and forth with my editor. I’ve been trying to decide if I want to write another Women of Action book or an Activities for Kids book. I’m also working with two other publishers on some fun ideas. What do you most like to do when you are not working? When I’m working, it doesn’t really feel like work. I love to read, which in a way is working. Actually, I have a pile of books that I can’t wait to get my hands on.
Besides writing, I’ve been doing some illustration work, which is like playing to me. I’ve been having fun learning how to use the Wacom tablet to create digital images.
Questions I added:
Did you have a special process while writing the book?
While doing the research, I had a box of grey folders and I made a folder for every woman. I also made a folder for my intro and chapter intros. I made copies of every quote for easy access when I compiled the Notes section. I also bought quite a few of my research books, a little while after I started racking up some library fines. (It's amazing how those due dates can slip by you when you are deep in work.) The actual books came in handy during the year-long editing process, when I had to check sources multiple times.
Towards the end, I made a spiffy excel spread sheet to keep track of all of my 22 women, images, permissions, word count, etc.
Did you have a personal connection to this book?
Yes, my father passed away suddenly the day after I got the go ahead to work on the proposal. My father ran a medium-sized engineering practice in Cincinnati for over 50 years. His firm oversaw the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) on many major construction projects. The last few years of his life he taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati. I think that he would have approved of this book.
On July 7, 2003, tucked into a Delta 2 rocket, the rover Opportunity blasted into space headed to Mars.
On January 24, 2004 PST (Jan. 25 Universal Time), the rover was dropped onto the surface of Mars wrapped in airbags, where it bounced 26 times before coming to rest in a crater. This little rover, about the size of golf cart, was designed for the three-month mission to find signs of past water on Mars.
Tomorrow marks the 10-year anniversary of Opportunity’s mission on Mars. TEN YEARS!!! HURRAH! WHOOT WHOOT! I MEAN, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT PEOPLE??? TEN YEARS!!! It was a three-month mission and this little robot, which was not designed to survive even one Martian winter, is STILL EXPLORING MARS TEN YEARS LATER! It is a miracle. This is perhaps the most successful space mission EVER!
I don’t get to write like this, in all caps and with multiple exclamation points, in my books for children, but this is how I feel about this mission and this rover. I am astounded. I am in awe. I cannot believe that a dream and the work of a bunch of scientists and engineers have given us a ten- year tour of another planet.
Opportunity was designed to only travel on flat terrain but has explored crater after crater after crater and is currently climbing the tallest hill of its mission. This is where Opportunity has traveled so far:
Opportunity is currently exploring the rim of Endeavour Crater, near an outcrop that may contain clay laid down in a watery past. Signs of past water have been found before, but evidence suggests that unlike the battery-acid-like water present on other parts of the planet, the water here may have been neutral enough to have once sustained life. LIFE!
I hope you can find a little time to celebrate the incredible success of this mission, especially with your children and students. You can:
Watch a live broadcast from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory today Thursday, Jan. 23, 11 a.m. PST (2 p.m. EST) which will include appearances of two of the heroes from my book The Mighty Mars Rovers
, Steve Squyres and John Callas. (Webcast live at http://ustream.tv/NASAJPL
and on NASA TV streaming at http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv
Teachers, there is so much this mission offers to inspire your students. As the mission continues to unfold, Opportunity gives you an incredible opportunity to connect reading, writing, science, history, news, books, videos, and primary source material easily available on the internet. A teachers’ guide
to my book The Mighty Mars Rovers
offers discussion questions, hands-on activities, and resources. You can also find good ideas in two Common Core guides, one short
and one long
When I started writing The Mighty Mars Rovers, my husband bought me a little scale model rover to keep on my desk as inspiration. But my model kept falling off my desk and breaking.
Perhaps my desk is a more hazardous place than Mars.
Or perhaps we humans are capable of much more than we can even imagine.
Long live Opportunity!
Images courtesy of NASA/JPL, except for the last one, which I took myself.
This is a little-known but very dramatic World War II civil rights story, set at a naval base near San Francisco. The main characters are young African American sailors who take a stand against segregation—and end up getting charged with mutiny and told they’re all going to be shot.
This book is a great example of how I, and I think most of the I.N.K. writers, truly never know where the next idea is going to come from. A few years back, at Thanksgiving, I was talking about my research for a book about the making of the atomic bomb, and my brother-in-law, a great lover of conspiracy theories (as am I), asked if I knew when the first bomb was tested. I said, “Yeah, in New Mexico, July 16, 1945.” He said, “That’s what they want you to think!”
Then he told me this fantastic tale, firmly believed by many on the Internet, that the first atomic test was actually in the summer of 1944, at a naval base called Port Chicago. I was intrigued and did some digging. There really was a massive blast at Port Chicago in 1944, one that killed more than 300 American sailors and marines. But the real story is that it was an ammunition ship, packed with thousands of tons of bombs, that exploded. To this day, no one is sure why.
After a bit more research, I learned that the sailors loading bombs and ammunition onto ships at Port Chicago were all African American. The Navy didn’t allow black sailors to serve at sea, except as messmen, so they were put to work on land at places like Port Chicago—only they were never trained to handle explosives. The men were pressured to work quickly and knew something terrible was going to happen. And of course they resented facing segregation while serving in a war that was being fought, as President Roosevelt kept saying, to preserve freedom around the world.
Then came the explosion of July 17, 1944, by far the deadliest home front disaster of World War II. With much more research, and some travel and lots of help, I was able to track down in-depth, unpublished interviews with many of the sailors who survived the blast. So in my book I’m able to follow the story from their point of view as they face what they know will be a life-changing decision: go back to work under the same conditions, or defy orders and face the consequences?
I won’t give away too much more, except to say that the number in the book’s title refers to the fifty men who wind up court-martialed for mutiny. I can’t promise a happy ending, though there’s no question that the stand these men took helped end segregation in the military, and was an early spark of the civil right movement of the 1950s and 60s. It's a story I am very proud to have the chance to tell.
News-o-Matic: A Daily for Kids' Fingertips
I'm a long-time news hound. I got my start in children's publishing writing news for kids. Like other nonfiction writers, I continually try to adapt my work to new audiences, new formats, and new markets. So I was psyched to find an app that brings news directly to kids via iTunes -- whether they're on their own or at the sides of their parents, teachers, and classmates.
I'm the newest contributing writer to News-o-Matic, a news app for children ages 7 to 11 available in pdf for classrooms and in the home via iPad and iPhone. I think it's pretty great, so I checked in with editor-in-chief Russell Kahn to find out more about it.
Q. How long has News-o-Matic been going?
A. We formed our company, Press4Kids, two years ago, and launched News-o-Matic in the App Store about a year ago. We launched our School Edition over the summer. And News-o-Matic 3.0, which allows users to read the editions on both the iPad and iPhone with one subscription, launched last week.
Q. Why did you create News-o-Matic?
A. My business partner Lillian Holtzclaw Stern, had the initial idea because her two children (then seven and nine) had nowhere to go to make sense of the news happening in the world. Maybe a generation ago it was possible to shelter your children from current events, but it's not possible with today's media saturation.
Q. Who is your audience?
A. We have now been downloaded more than 50,000 times in 120 countries. That doesn't include the 600-plus schools that use a PDF of our publication on a daily basis. (We want to be sure that schools without tablet technology still have access to our stories.)
Q. What kind of response do you get?
A. Kids feel like they have a newspaper just for them. Kids write comments and draw pictures every day; I usually get about 100 of each from them every day. Our readers are incredibly invested in our stories. They share their opinions and ask additional questions to show how much they care. You should see some of the drawings that we get; it's clear that they understand, for example, how an eclipse works or what the effects of climate change are.
As for educators, we've had teachers tell us that we're the reason they bought iPads for their classroom. Others have said that their students have begged to read News-o-Matic during breaks in the school day. It's opened up new avenues for discussion, and of course it's helped teachers meet the need to ensure that half their content covered in the class is nonfiction (as directed by the Common Core Standards.)
If you're a parent with an iPad, it can be difficult to know how to use the tablet as a valuable tool. The iPad can be much more than a game console. So we're trying to give parents an app that will get their kids READING (and actually enjoying it) without it being a forced assignment. Parents are grateful to know that their kids are being safe on our app and developing a reading habit.
Q. How do you decide what should be covered?
A. The two founders and I are French, Brazilian, and American. It's always been our mission to be international. We feel it's important to expose readers to the world beyond America's borders at a young age. Sometimes that means we deal with tough stories, such as Syria's civil war or the Taliban resurgence in Iraq. But we need to establish a glance in every edition. Our readers constantly request stories about animals, sports, and entertainment. In a given edition I would hope we'd cover at least one or two stories that will appeal to ANY young reader.
Q. I was interested to read the section about what to do if the news upsets you. This is a topic very dear to my heart.
A. We can't shield kids from scary events anymore. Kids hear about them, and without an appropriate place to learn what happened, they may get upset. We want them to understand that News-o-Matic will help explain the event in a way that makes sense. We don't want to be the ones to INTRODUCE scary news to a kid. You won't see us covering a car bomb in Baghdad. But if something happens that makes the front pages of the newspaper, if kids will hear about it in the schoolyard, we feel we have to cover it. We covered Newtown. We covered the Boston Marathon bombing. We had to!
Misinformation can be scarier than the truth. We have a child psychologist, Dr. Phyllis Ohr, on staff who helps us help young children understand tough current events in a safe and age-appropriate way. Together with her, we try to accentuate the positives and focus on the helpers. That said, we do know that some kids will be upset by the news. We worked with Dr. Ohr to develop a series of strategies to help children cope. But ultimately we hope that News-o-Matic serves as a tool to help kids understand why things happen (and how people try to help), making the world a less scary and more inspiring place to live.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your work load.
A. Oh, boy. First, it's really important to recognize that we're an original content creator, not just a repackager of the news. We've interviewed gold medal Olympic athletes, astronauts, and artists. We've talked to scientists and Iditarod mushers and kids who've discovered supernovas. We've gone into the street to cover events.
I read the news all day long, every day. As a daily newspaper, we need to be able to respond immediately to anything that's happening. We publish Monday through Friday, 52 weeks a year. At 261 editions a year, that's six more than USA Today! We considered not publishing during the holidays, but we want kids to become addicted to the habit of daily reading -- especially when they're out of school!
And of course we talk to kids to get their perspectives, such as with our Martin Luther King, Jr., article (posted yesterday). To be truly a kids' newspaper we need them to be a part of it. News-o-Matic aims to create a dialogue to get children writing, asking questions, and actively interacting with the news. And it's working. Kids feel like they have a newspaper just for them.
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
It is a noble day to remember that all for which the great man is known was once in the
unimaginable future of a
bright little boy in Atlanta, Georgia, in a very different America. And, on this here anniversary of Inauguration Day, please note that young Martin had just turned 8 at the time of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's second Inaugural, in 1937.
Never before had a U.S. president taken his Oath of Office on the 20th of January. (If you're reading this, it's likely that you know the big day used to be in March and had been since 1789.) On that raw winter day in Washington, DC, 1937. FDR quoted a long-gone Victorian poet, Arthur Wm. Edgar O'Shaughnessy, when he said "each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth." It was a day to "reconsecrate our country to long-cherished ideals."
|A freezing, rainy day for an Inauguration, January 20, 1937.|
And so it is with this very Monday, this holiday commemorating the words and deeds of an idealistic leader, this anniversary of commencements. It's a far out day for rededication, to our works, our books, our readers, our dear ones, our purposes, various and precious. Though this blog is coming to an end, I'd be willing to bet that I'm not the only author who could cheerfully quote Franklin Roosevelt's buddy, Winston Churchill: "We bumble onward."
This is my last post on I.N.K.. It has been a wonderful community of writers and I have thoroughly enjoyed interacting with some of the teachers, librarians, and other readers here. Thank you so much for your attention and time.
As I say when I am doing school visits, if I leave with you remembering just 2 things about our visit together, remember this: What If? are the two most powerful words in your writing arsenal (and in life, for that matter). And always, always, always have an emotional connection to what you are writing. If you are interested in what you are writing, your writing will be interesting.
Thank you I.N.K.ers and readers!
If you’re a teacher-librarian, you probably already do booktalks on a regular basis, but they also work well in a classroom setting. Think of a booktalk as a 2-3minute commercial that introduces students to a book. If you teach grade 3 or higher, try modeling a booktalk a few times, and then invite your students to choose a favorite book and do booktalks of their own. Booktalking is a great technique for introducing your students to the classroom book collection. If you alternate between fiction and nonfiction titles, students will be exposed to a wide range of literature. By including nonfiction titles, you let students know that you value nonfiction and find it interesting to read. By adding nonfiction picture books to your classroom read-alouds, you provide engaging opportunities to explore content. Choose books with a varying voices so students can explore the many ways to write nonfiction and come to realize that an author's writing style often reflects content. Here are a few recommendations:
Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre
Army Ant Parade by April Pulley Sayre
The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman
Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart
Those Rebels, Tom and John by Barbara Kerley
When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan Here Is Antarctica by Madeleine Dunphy An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Aston Hutts Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman
Hello, Bumblebee Bat by Darrin Lunde
Mosquito Biteby Alexandra Siy & Dennis Kunkle
3. Use Nonfiction as Mentor Texts
When you teach writing, use high-quality trade titles (such as the ones listed above) as authentic models for structuring text, crafting beginnings and endings, choosing precise words, selecting voice, and more. Some students may understand the power of vibrant verbs, sensory details, similes, metaphors, alliteration, hyperbole, imagery, and other language devices better by interacting with examples in both fiction and nonfiction texts.
4. Pair Fiction and Nonfiction Titles on Related Topics
Reading fiction and nonfiction titles together enriches student experience by allowing them to make real-world connections to the ideas or themes of a fiction work. It also provides students who prefer nonfiction with a concrete way to approach the story. For more information about this teaching strategy and sample book pairings, see this article.
5. Give Students Opportunities to Skim and Scan Nonfiction Texts
When students have free time, encourage them to look through nonfiction titles and complete activities that involve identifying text structures, text features, key ideas, or specific language devices. You can find some sample ideas here and here and here.
*Strategies based, in part, on suggestions in Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller with Susan Kelley (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014).
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When we first moved to Portland, OR, we lived in a condo downtown…and my life was downtown-centric. Now, we live in a little house across the river. I love our quiet neighborhood, but it's a bit removed from the action. Several times a week, it seems like I'm commuting somewhere, and my favorite way to do this is by bike.
I hate driving, for one thing. The bus is reliable but takes a while. And I’ve slowly outfitted myself with a variety of bike gear—waterproof this-and-that’s, good gloves and booties, and even most recently, a truly sweet headlamp that is so high tech you just plug the whole thing in to recharge.
And then there’s the commute itself.
Portland has this wonder called the Springwater Corridor
and wow is it great.
It allows me to travel much of my commute on a dedicated bike path.
No cars, just bikes, joggers…and the occasional goose.
You see, the section of the corridor I travel runs alongside the Willamette River, skirting the edge of the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge
As I ride, I see kayakers or crew teams in the river, and, on the other side of the trail, Great Blue Herons standing quietly in the marsh. Three times now I have even seen a bald eagle. There are hawks. And in the spring, there are baby geese—Canada Geese that start out as tiny yellow puffballs and quickly grow into gangly awkward goslings.
I commute by bike a lot, and my favorite ride is to and from my critique group meetings. The commute home often proves to be almost as productive as the meeting was.
My critique partners raise good points, ask good questions, leave me wondering how on earth I am going to fix the problems I didn’t even realize were there until I went to group.
But as I start pedaling, once I’m off the busy streets and into the quiet, tree-filled, goose part of my commute, I find that I’ve started to work out those problems, without even realizing it. I’ve had to stop my bike more than once (sometimes more than once in the same ride) to write down what I’ve just figured out while I was pedaling.
I’ve come to look forward to those rides home. And I always pack my notebook and pen in easy reach.