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Curiouser and Curiouser with Melissa Stewart

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and StinkersThis month we’re fea­tur­ing Melis­sa Stew­art, author of sci­ence books for young read­ers and a seem­ing­ly tire­less advo­cate for read­ing non­fic­tion books, par­tic­u­lar­ly expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion (“5 Kinds of Non­fic­tion”). Melis­sa has writ­ten more than 180 books in her career, the first of which was pub­lished in 1998 and the most recent of which is Pipsqueaks, Slow­pokes, and Stinkers: Cel­e­brat­ing Ani­mal Under­dogs (illus­trat­ed by Stephanie Laberis, pub­lished by Peachtree Pub­lish­ers). We recent­ly put our heads togeth­er for an inter­view address­ing our curios­i­ty about Melissa’s books and her work. Pull up a chair to the table and join us!

Do you work on more than one book at a time?

Yes, I usu­al­ly work on at least a half dozen books at a time. I might be writ­ing the rough draft of one and revis­ing one or two oth­ers. I might be research­ing one, and wait­ing for research mate­ri­als for anoth­er. I could be review­ing illus­tra­tor sketch­es or check­ing lay­outs or review­ing notes from an edi­tor or copy edi­tor. There’s a lot of jug­gling. Each day, before I stop work­ing, I make a list of what I plan to work on the next day. This helps to keep me orga­nized.

Melissa Stewart

Melis­sa Stew­art

You work on many dif­fer­ent types of books with­in the pletho­ra of knowl­edge about our nat­ur­al world. How do you clear your head to work on a joke book after you’ve writ­ten about the droughts in our world?

Some­times it’s a strug­gle, espe­cial­ly when I need to shift gears between writ­ing with a live­ly, humor­ous voice and a more lyri­cal voice. If my voice is off, I stop writ­ing and start read­ing to get in the right mind­set. It’s sort of like cleans­ing my palate with sor­bet or pick­led gin­ger between dif­fer­ent cours­es of a meal.

You write for a vari­ety of pub­lish­ers includ­ing Peachtree Pub­lish­ers, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids, Beach Lane Books, and Harper­Collins. Do you pitch your ideas to these com­pa­nies or do they come to you with ideas for the books they’d like?

A lit­tle bit of both. When pub­lish­ers have a large mass mar­ket series, such as Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Read­ers or HarperCollins’s Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out-Science®, they usu­al­ly decide what top­ics they would like to add and then search for a writer. But for pic­ture books and oth­er trade books, I devel­op the idea. For pic­ture books, I need to sub­mit the com­plete man­u­script, and then the pub­lish­er may accept it or they may reject it. For longer books, I sub­mit a pro­pos­al with an out­line and writ­ing sam­ple.

author Melissa Stewart reading When Rain Falls with a kindergarten class

Author Melis­sa Stew­art read­ing When Rain Falls with a kinder­garten class

When you’re writ­ing a book that a pub­lish­er hired you to write, do you have para­me­ters with­in which you need to stay?

Yes. They give me a word count and usu­al­ly tell me what text fea­tures to include. I use exist­ing books in the series as mod­els.

Do you find that dif­fi­cult to do?

No. I find it com­fort­ing to have guide­lines. It’s sort of like putting togeth­er a jig­saw puz­zle. All the pieces are there. I just have to fig­ure out the right way to put them togeth­er.

With pic­ture books, I’m invent­ing the puz­zle. I find that chal­leng­ing, but I enjoy being able to exper­i­ment and play. It’s a more cre­ative expe­ri­ence.  

How do you keep your research orga­nized?

I don’t real­ly have a good sys­tem. I type all my notes into a Word file. Over time, it becomes unwieldy.

Before I start writ­ing, I think about the major cat­e­gories of infor­ma­tion I’ll need. Then I cut and paste, cut and paste to cre­ate major chunks of relat­ed infor­ma­tion. Depend­ing on the book, even these chunks can still be unwieldy. Thank good­ness Word allows me to do search­es to find exact­ly the infor­ma­tion I need.

Some­times I use index cards or sticky notes to help me decide the order in which these chunks will be pre­sent­ed in the book. I like that I can phys­i­cal­ly move them around.

Do you return to that research when you’re writ­ing a new book?

Some­times I try. After all, it would be more effi­cient, but there are two rea­sons that it usu­al­ly doesn’t work out.

  1. Because our knowl­edge of the world is chang­ing so quick­ly, notes I took 5 or even 3 years ago may be out of date.
  2. Even when I include the same ani­mal in two books, my hook is inevitably dif­fer­ent, so my notes may not have the spe­cif­ic details I need.

Who finds the pho­tos that are includ­ed in your books?

Some­times me. Some­times a pho­to researcher who works for the pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. And some­times we work togeth­er. It depends on the pub­lish­er and the project.

Can an Aardvark Bark, Under the Snow, A Place for Birds

Do you have any input for the illus­tra­tors who have worked on books such as Can an Aard­vark Bark? and Under the Snow and A Place for Birds?

Some­times I play a role in select­ing the illus­tra­tor, and some­times I don’t. It depends on the pub­lish­er and the project. Some­times I pro­vide a pack­age of ref­er­ence mate­ri­als for the illus­tra­tor.

Because I’m the con­tent expert, I always have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to review the illustrator’s sketch­es and com­ment on any­thing that isn’t sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly sound. It isn’t unusu­al for the illus­tra­tor to do sev­er­al sets of sketch­es. S/he keeps work­ing until all the details in the art are accu­rate.

Melissa Stewart's office

a look at Melis­sa Stewart’s office

If you could break your week down into the per­cent­ages of what you do, how much time do you spend on the dif­fer­ent tasks required of a suc­cess­ful writer?

This has shift­ed a lot over the years. When my first book was pub­lished 20 years ago, authors weren’t expect­ed to play a role in mar­ket­ing. Most children’s books were sold to schools and libraries. But in the ear­ly 2000s, school book bud­gets were slashed and many school librar­i­ans lost their jobs. For a while, there were sev­er­al large brick-and-mor­tar book­store chains, and they were major play­ers in the mar­ket. But now, most of them are gone.

Today social media is explod­ing and authors are expect­ed to be active­ly involved in sell­ing their books. And so I spend a lot of time blog­ging and tweet­ing and devel­op­ing mate­ri­als for my web­site. That means I have less time to actu­al­ly work on books.

While there real­ly is no typ­i­cal day or week, I can say that I now spend only about 50 per­cent of my time work­ing on books. The rest of the time is devot­ed to mar­ket­ing, speak­ing at schools, attend­ing con­fer­ences, and read­ing recent­ly pub­lished children’s books.

Of the time I do spend work­ing on books, prob­a­bly about 50 per­cent of the time is spent phys­i­cal­ly writ­ing. The rest of the time, I’m doing research, devel­op­ing ideas for new projects, or read­ing adult books and arti­cles about sci­ence.

What’s your favorite aspect of your career?

The phys­i­cal act of writ­ing, espe­cial­ly those mag­i­cal hours “spent in the flow.” But a close sec­ond is spend­ing time in schools speak­ing with and lis­ten­ing to kids.

What do you wish were dif­fer­ent about your career?

I don’t think any­one likes rejec­tions, but it’s an inevitable part of the writ­ing process.

If you could select one of your back­list titles, which book would you like to see peo­ple read­ing with more fre­quen­cy? Can you tell us why?

Because sci­ence is always chang­ing, some of my old­er books con­tain infor­ma­tion that is out of date. In fact, I some­times cheer when I find out a title is going out of print. I’m more than hap­py to have young read­ers focus on titles I’ve pub­lished in the last 5 or 6 years.

Curi­ous about Melissa’s books? Vis­it her web­site.

Edu­ca­tors, don’t miss the many, many resources Melis­sa has made avail­able for you. Her site is a ver­i­ta­ble trea­sure lode!

Melissa Stewart's Educators' Resources

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Earth Day

Whether you are cel­e­brat­ing Earth Day this week or next week or every week, there are books here that will enchant your stu­dents or your fam­i­ly, open­ing up pos­si­bil­i­ties for good dis­cus­sions.

 

Earth: My First 4.54 Bil­lion Years
Sta­cy McAn­ul­ty, author
James Litch­field, illus­tra­tor
Hen­ry Holt, 2017
pri­ma­ry and ele­men­tary grades

Told from the view­point of the anthro­po­mor­phic Earth itself, this book tells the life sto­ry of our home plan­et, intro­duc­ing it to “alien vis­i­tors.” As Earth says, “You can call me Plan­et Awe­some.” A gen­tle sense of humor and rich illus­tra­tions will engage Earth’s res­i­dents with lots of cool facts and engag­ing text.

Earth Day Every Day  

Earth Day Every Day
Lisa Bullard
Xin Zheng, illus­tra­tor
Mill­brook Press, 2011
pri­ma­ry grades

Tyler and Tri­na are on a mis­sion to save Earth. They apply what they’ve learned in school to earth-pre­serv­ing projects such as recy­cling, sav­ing ener­gy, con­serv­ing water, and cel­e­brat­ing Earth Day.

Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up  

Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up
Sal­ly M. Walk­er, author
William Grill, illus­tra­tor
Can­dlewick Press, 2018
pri­ma­ry grades and up

In haiku verse, Sal­ly M. Walk­er pro­vokes young read­ers to think about our earth from a sci­ence view­point. “Frag­ile out­er crust / shell around man­tle and core– / Earth a hard-boiled egg. It’s always fun to chal­lenge stu­dents to write in 17 syl­la­bles … Walk­er shines a bright flash­light on the path. William Grill’s col­ored pen­cil illus­tra­tions will be inspi­ra­tional, too.

 

Earthshake: Poems from the Ground Up

 

Earth­shake: Poems from the Ground Up
Lisa West­berg Peters, author
Cathie Fel­stead, illus­tra­tor
Green­wil­low Books, 2003
grades 4 and up

A delight­ful col­lec­tion of poems that intro­duce and inte­grate into lessons on earth sci­ence, geol­o­gy, geog­ra­phy, and ecol­o­gy. Often humor­ous, the poems are wor­thy of re-read­ing. The col­lage illus­tra­tions deep­en the reader’s under­stand­ing of the poet­ry; they invite care­ful study.

Here We Are  

Here We Are: Notes for Liv­ing on Plan­et Earth
Oliv­er Jef­fers, author and illus­tra­tor
Philomel, 2017
preschool through ele­men­tary

The author wel­comes his young child to the world with paint­ings of the cos­mos, the land and sea and incred­u­lous fea­tures of this Earth. It’s a beau­ti­ful book to share with young chil­dren and to dis­cuss with old­er chil­dren what the Earth means to them and why they appre­ci­ate it.

Hundred Billion Trillion Stars  

Hun­dred Bil­lion Tril­lion Stars
Seth Fish­man, author
Isabel Green­berg, illus­tra­tor
Green­wil­low Books, 2017
pri­ma­ry grades and up

This is a play­ful book, both in text and illus­tra­tions, that will sat­is­fy young minds hun­ger­ing for facts, math, and absorbable infor­ma­tion about our plan­et, Earth. Fas­ci­nat­ed by real­ly big num­bers? How many stars in the uni­verse? How many trees on Earth? In his author’s note, Mr. Fish­man says that these num­bers are “sort-of-def­i­nite­ly-ALMOST true,” but pin­point accu­ra­cy is not the point. The scope, the mag­nif­i­cence, the under­stand­ing of the grandeur of our Earth … that’s the sto­ry here.

On the Day You Were Born  

On the Day You Were Born
Debra Frasi­er, author and illus­tra­tor
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1991
all ages

Although this book is often giv­en as a baby’s birth present, it is a good choice for Earth Day read-alouds and dis­cus­sions, rev­el­ing in all of the Earth’s won­ders along­side the humans who are its care­tak­ers. There is a detailed glos­sary explain­ing such nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­na as grav­i­ty, tides, and migra­tion, so it works well for the class­room.

Our Big Home  

Our Big Home
Lin­da Glaser, author
Elisa Kleven, illus­tra­tor
Mill­brook Press, 2002
all ages

This pic­ture book cel­e­brates that all liv­ing things on Earth are inter­con­nect­ed and how the Earth sup­ports our lives. The illus­tra­tions are gor­geous. There’s a strong sense of respect for life and joy in being alive.

Thank You, Earth  

Thank You, Earth: a Love Let­ter to Our Plan­et
April Pul­ley Sayre, author and pho­tog­ra­ph­er
Green­wil­low Books, 2018
pri­ma­ry grades and up

Per­haps inspir­ing your stu­dents’ own thank you notes, the author shares her pho­tographs and a poet­ic text that thank the Earth for its stun­ning beau­ty and life-giv­ing resources. Won­der­ful­ly clear pho­tographs are inspir­ing and large enough for shar­ing. A rec­om­mend­ed pri­ma­ry and ele­men­tary school book that intro­duce con­cepts of sci­ence, nature, geog­ra­phy, biol­o­gy, poet­ry, and com­mu­ni­ty.

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A Science Rookie: Learning to Craft a Science Narrative When
You Know Next to Nothing about Science

Enter the fresh­man chem­istry tutor dressed in torn jeans and a flan­nel shirt. His job? To get me through entry lev­el chem­istry at Iowa State Uni­ver­si­ty. My first col­lege plan was to major in Hotel and Restau­rant Man­age­ment because my father owned a com­pa­ny that did busi­ness with these types of insti­tu­tions. So, what the heck, I didn’t know what else to study so I declared that my major way back in the fall of 1977.

ScienceNo one told me that since these kinds of insti­tu­tions serve food, I had to take cours­es in food and nutri­tion. And since food and nutri­tion were sci­ence based, I must take chem­istry. Three quar­ters of chem­istry! Ugh. Back to the tutor’s and my results; C+, and that was after a lot of hard work. My new major; jour­nal­ism and mass com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and forty years lat­er the stars have aligned. Sci­ence is draw­ing me in now.

Bold Women of MedicineWhen I wrote the pro­pos­al for Bold Women of Med­i­cine, it did not occur to me that I would have to write about sci­ence. Well … what did you think, Susan? Write about these coura­geous doc­tors, nurs­es, mid­wives, and phys­i­cal ther­a­pists, and there wouldn’t be any sci­ence? Oh, dear. I flashed back to fresh­man chem­istry and biol­o­gy, and sus­pect­ed I was in big trou­ble.

Along the way I dis­cov­ered that not hav­ing this knowl­edge was a good thing, and in my case, it almost helped me. I could write from a posi­tion of inno­cence and explain the women’s med­ical careers with­out a con­de­scend­ing tone to my read­ers: I was one of those read­ers.

Take for exam­ple one of the women in my book, Helen Taus­sig and her part in treat­ing the blue baby syn­drome. I bare­ly knew how the human heart worked when it was healthy, and now I’d have to explain how bril­liant med­ical researcher Mr. Vivien Thomas, and Drs. Taus­sig and Blalock, dis­cov­ered how to fix the defect. (Hint: Vivien Thomas prac­ticed on hun­dreds of dogs, the most famous of which is Anna, whose por­trait hangs at Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal.)

heart doctorOff to the library I went to check out books on the human heart—first adult books, then books for chil­dren. I stud­ied the healthy heart and heart defect jar­gon and tried to explain it to myself first, and then write it down. For­tu­nate­ly, I have med­ical pro­fes­sion­als in my life so, after a few drafts, I had them read it to see if I had explained it cor­rect­ly and with­out intense med­ical lan­guage. Did you know the nor­mal child’s heart is about the size of their fist? I didn’t know that.

The tiny babies were not get­ting enough oxy­gen and in Dr. Taussig’s mind the fix seemed to be a sim­ple case of improved plumb­ing. The nar­ra­tive ten­sion was built right into the sto­ry. Specifics always work bet­ter so I wrote about the first oper­a­tion on one of the babies, lit­tle Eileen Sax­on, and lat­er anoth­er oper­a­tion on a six-year-old boy.

Dr. Catherine Hamlin

Dr. Cather­ine Ham­lin

In the pro­files of Dr. Cather­ine Ham­lin and Edna Adan Ismail, the sci­ence writ­ing was more chal­leng­ing know­ing my audi­ence was young adult (12 and up). Writ­ing about med­i­cine auto­mat­i­cal­ly lends itself to top­ics we don’t want to hear about—in this case, FGM (Female Gen­i­tal Muti­la­tion) and Obstet­ric Fis­tu­la. One young woman came to Dr. Ham­lin for help by walk­ing almost 280 miles. Ten years ear­li­er, because of a pro­longed labor, she had suf­fered two holes in her blad­der (an obstet­ric fis­tu­la) and lost all con­trol. At first Dr. Ham­lin did not know how to help her, but she talked to oth­er physi­cians and stud­ied up on pro­ce­dures. After the suc­cess­ful surgery, Dr. Ham­lin pre­sent­ed the young woman with a new dress in which to go home. The woman waved good-bye with hope and said “God will reward you for all you have done for me.” Pre­sent­ing the image of an opti­mistic woman with a new dress helps read­ers under­stand Dr. Hamlin’s impor­tant work.

Edna Adan Ismail

Edna Adan Ismail with a class of nurs­ing school grad­u­ates at Edna Adan Ismail hos­pi­tal.

As I wrote about sci­ence for the first time, I learned a few things along the way:

  • Every famous surgery or dis­cov­ery or treat­ment has a sto­ry. Find that sto­ry, find the human part of that sto­ry.
  • Char­ac­ter, set­ting, and the five sens­es can help sci­ence drib­ble into the sto­ry.
  • Keep your won­der and gross-out mind­set alive. Kids pos­sess this mind­set nat­u­ral­ly and many appre­ci­ate the guts (no pun intend­ed) of the details.
  • There are no stu­pid ques­tions when inter­view­ing experts. Be curi­ous, and if you can, expe­ri­ence the sci­ence first-hand.
  • Know that your audi­ence is smart, just inex­pe­ri­enced in the sub­ject.
  • Dou­ble (and triple) check your sci­ence writ­ing with the experts. The last thing you want to do is send out incor­rect infor­ma­tion.
Future bold women of medicine?

Future bold women of med­i­cine?

Because the women of med­i­cine were accom­plished, it was easy to assume they knew all the answers. They did not … but they were curi­ous and that curios­i­ty led them to answers. Sci­ence often comes up with neg­a­tive results, peo­ple just try­ing to under­stand how some­thing works. This doesn’t always make the news. Build­ing on these neg­a­tive results leads sci­en­tists to the flashy news and the suc­cess­es.

I built on my (lim­it­ed) knowl­edge, and learned right along with my audi­ence. I had a lot of false starts, not real­ly know­ing what I was writ­ing about. For­tu­nate­ly, for the patients, I nev­er had to actu­al­ly per­form the dif­fi­cult pro­ce­dures and surg­eries.

And to that chem­istry tutor in the flan­nel shirt, wher­ev­er you are: thanks for the help. I prob­a­bly did learn some­thing. Next up: seis­mol­o­gy. Know any good tutors?

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Feeding the Naturally Curious Brain

Science EncyclopediaYou’ll dis­cov­er mouth­less worms and walk­ing ferns … ” (pg. 13) And with those words, I’m charged up for the hunt. Along the way, I can’t help being dis­tract­ed by a sat­is­fy­ing amount of irre­sistible infor­ma­tion in Nation­al Geographic’s Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia.

If you learn best visu­al­ly, there is a sur­feit of images to stim­u­late a curi­ous mind. If you learn best ver­bal­ly, then this book is chock full of words arranged in the most inter­est­ing ways. And the pho­tos! This is Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, after all.

The book is so visu­al that infor­ma­tion leaps into the reader’s brain. Col­or­ful text box­es help the eye and mind focus.

You’ll find page-long intro­duc­tions to the var­i­ous sec­tions on mat­ter, ener­gy, forces and machines, elec­tron­ics, the uni­verse, life on Earth, plan­et Earth, and the human body. The way I approach these is to look at all of the pho­tos in the sec­tion, read the text box­es, and then go back to read the intro­duc­tions because by that time I would need to know every­thing on this sub­ject.

Each dou­ble-page spread (and some­times a sin­gle page) includes “Try This!” for prac­ti­cal, do-at-home-with-sup­plies-on-hand exper­i­ments, “Per­son­al­i­ty Plus” fea­tur­ing a small, true, bio­graph­i­cal tid­bit about some­one impor­tant in that field, “LOL!” a rid­dle per­tain­ing to the sub­ject (!), and a “Geek Out!” fact with which you can amaze your friends and draw new friends into your geek cir­cle.

One set of pages fea­tures a time­line: Amaz­ing Sci­ence! Mile­stones, Atom Smash­ing. The ear­li­est entry from 1897 is “Eng­lish­man J.J. Thomp­son dis­cov­ers the first sub­atom­ic par­ti­cle, the elec­tron, using a gas-filled tube that cre­ates a glow­ing beam.” The lat­est entry is “2012−2015, in which the Large Hadron Col­lec­tor “accel­er­ates pro­tons to just below the speed of light and smash­es them togeth­er.” (pgs 22–23)

The way the pages of this time­line are laid out helps the read­er focus and absorb infor­ma­tion. It’s not a straight line with words on tick-points. Oh, no! It’s a vibrant, image-filled, dou­ble-paged spread of com­plete­ly cool tid­bits. A time­line to get excit­ed about!

Every­thing about this book is a launch­pad for fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion.

I grew up believ­ing that I didn’t like sci­ence. What a nut! How can you not like this stuff?

The Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia is such an excit­ing pre­sen­ta­tion of infor­ma­tion that it belongs in every house­hold, whether or not there are chil­dren in said house.

Don’t have any chil­dren? Buy your­self a copy of this book.

Then, buy a copy for each ele­men­tary school and mid­dle school where you live. This book is that good. You’ll be charg­ing up the curios­i­ty of young minds for years to come.

Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia:
Atom Smash­ing, Food Chem­istry, Ani­mals, Space, and More

Nation­al Geo­graph­ic. 2016
ISBN 978–1426325427, $24.99

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Everything You Need to Ace Five Subjects

bk_everything_series_300pxI’ve had this TBR pile of five very attrac­tive, come-hith­er-look­ing books beg­ging to be rec­om­mend­ed for weeks now. The spines are bright pri­ma­ry col­ors so I know that even when I shelve them they will be call­ing to me. And I think they’ll be call­ing to your stu­dents as well.

I open what are for me the two scari­est vol­umes (eat your veg­eta­bles first—oops, as an adult, I find I LOVE veg­eta­bles), Every­thing You Need to Know to Ace Sci­ence in One Fat Note­book: Notes Bor­rowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Dou­ble-Checked by Award-Win­ning Teacher) and Every­thing You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Note­book: Notes Bor­rowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Dou­ble-Checked by Award-Win­ning Teacher). Did you catch that? Bor­rowed from the “Smartest Kid” in the class.

When I was a kid I had ency­clo­pe­dias from the gro­cery store of the high­ly visu­al, dip­ping-in-and-out vari­ety. I could sit for hours, flip­ping pages, look­ing at some­thing that caught my eye, devour­ing infor­ma­tion.

These books remind me of those ency­clo­pe­dias although they’re more focused on a sub­ject area.

If you have kids who suck up facts and infor­ma­tion like a vac­u­um clean­er, these are the books for them. They’re also self-chal­leng­ing. Each chap­ter ends with a list of ques­tions which you can respond to before you turn the page to find the sup­plied answers.

bk_everything_science_200pxSo, in the Sci­ence book, my eyes light imme­di­ate­ly on Chap­ter 5: Out­er Space, the Uni­verse, and the Solar Sys­tem, with sub­sec­tions of The Solar Sys­tem and Space Explo­ration (which every self-respect­ing Star Wars nerd needs to study), The Sun-Earth-Moon Sys­tem, and The Ori­gin of the Uni­verse and Our Solar Sys­tem.

In all of the books, impor­tant names and places are bold­ed in blue, vocab­u­lary words are high­light­ed in yel­low, def­i­n­i­tions are high­light­ed in yel­low, and stick fig­ures pro­vide the enter­tain­ment.

Look­ing fur­ther, I dis­cov­er the first chap­ters in the Sci­ence book are about think­ing like a sci­en­tist and design­ing an exper­i­ment. I need a LOT of help with those activ­i­ties, so I’m glad to be put at ease.

It’s a bright and col­or­ful book, with great eye-appeal. Even for the most reluc­tant­ly curi­ous mind, these books hold a great deal of promise.

Everything I Need to Ace Math

In the Math book, we explore ratios, pro­por­tions, equa­tions, prob­a­bil­i­ty, and more. Although my brain bawks at look­ing at this stuff, I find my eye rest­ing longer and longer on some of the high­ly visu­al infor­ma­tion, want­i­ng to under­stand it bet­ter. The book is work­ing its mag­ic.

Everything You Need to Know American History

Vol­umes on Amer­i­can His­to­ry, Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts, and World His­to­ry sim­i­lar­ly offer an overview of many top­ics with­in their dis­ci­plines. The Amer­i­can His­to­ry note­book begins with “The First Peo­ple in Amer­i­ca EVER” and ends with the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion, with many stops along the way for famous and not-so-famous parts of America’s his­to­ry.

Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts explores every­thing from lan­guage and syn­tax to how to read fic­tion and non­fic­tion, includ­ing poet­ry, explic­it evi­dence, and using mul­ti­ple sources to strength­en your writ­ing.

World His­to­ry cov­ers 3500 BC to present times in 502 pages, light­ing on ancient African civ­i­liza­tions, the Song Dynasty in Chi­na, 1830s rev­o­lu­tions in Europe, and so much more.

Everything You Need to Ace English Language ArtsNone of the infor­ma­tion is exhaus­tive. In fact, it’s quite light. Toe-dip­ping is an apt descrip­tion. But the infor­ma­tion is enough to intrigue the read­er and lead them on to oth­er resources.

There are no bib­li­ogra­phies or sources or sug­ges­tions for fur­ther read­ing in the books. I can see where that would have been a mon­u­men­tal task. I sup­pose I’m going to have to look it up myself. Oh, maybe that’s part of the expe­ri­ence? I’m guess­ing it is.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for grades 6 through 9 (the cov­ers say “The Com­plete Mid­dle School Study Guide”) and espe­cial­ly for your home library. I think this would be a per­fect start­ing place for choos­ing a research top­ic or enter­tain­ing your­self with read­ing an expos­i­to­ry text. I envi­sion whiling away many hours look­ing through these books. Good job, Work­man and pro­duc­tion team.

 

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Skinny Dip with Pamela S. Turner

For this inter­view, we vis­it with Pamela S. Turn­er, children’s book author with two new books out in 2016, Samu­rai Ris­ing: The Epic Life of Minamo­to Yoshit­sune and Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Bright­est Bird:

Pamela S. TurnerWhich celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

Sir Richard Fran­cis Bur­ton, the Vic­to­ri­an anthro­pol­o­gist, trans­la­tor, lin­guist, and African explor­er. I’ve had a huge crush on him ever since I read The White Nile.  

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry? 

Get­ting my first library card at age four. Mom said I couldn’t get one until I could write my own name, so I learned in a flash.  

Sir Richard Francis Burton

Richard Fran­cis Bur­ton by Rischgitz, 1864

Tea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Why isn’t “mar­gari­ta” one of the options here?

Your favorite can­dy as a kid …

Abba-Zab­ba … or maybe Bit O’ Hon­ey … or maybe Big Hunk … no, wait! Cot­ton can­dy. I still love cot­ton can­dy. I have the taste buds of a three-year-old.  

Is Plu­to a plan­et?

No. But Plu­to being demot­ed from plan­et­hood is a won­der­ful les­son in how sci­ence works. In sci­ence data mat­ter, not tra­di­tion.

Cotton CandyBest tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

I think Bud­dhists have the best mot­to of all: “com­pas­sion for all sen­tient crea­tures.”

Your hope for the world?

That we will find a way to live with­in our eco­log­i­cal means and not muck every­thing up for our­selves and for all oth­er sen­tient crea­tures.

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Books Like This Are Convincing

Lives of the ScientistsI’m more com­fort­able with mag­ic than I am with sci­ence. Mar­ried to a sci­ence guy, I work hard­er to be inter­est­ed in sci­ence. It gives us some­thing to talk about. When I find nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion that tells a com­pelling sto­ry, I’m thank­ful … and intrigued. I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly hap­py to find books that fea­ture less­er-known aspects of sci­ence, there­by taunt­ing my curios­i­ty.

Do you know the Lives of … series, writ­ten by Kath­leen Krull and illus­trat­ed with dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly big heads by Kathryn Hewitt? First pub­lished in 2013 and now in paper­back for less than $10, I had a ball read­ing Lives of the Sci­en­tists: Exper­i­ments, Explo­sions (and What the Neigh­bors Thought). It reminds me of Peo­ple mag­a­zine in tone, lean­ing toward gos­sipy aspects of these most curi­ous of peo­ple past and present but bal­anced by the right amount of tan­ta­liz­ing infor­ma­tion about their work (for many of them, their obses­sion). And you may not have heard of many of these peo­ple.

For instance, William and Car­o­line Her­schel, broth­er and sis­ter, earned their liv­ing as musi­cians until they had sold enough of their hand­made tele­scopes (they used horse dung for the molds!) and their cat­a­log of new­ly dis­cov­ered heav­en­ly bod­ies attract­ed the atten­tion of England’s King George III, who paid them both a salary.

The gos­sipy part? Appar­ent­ly William was a bossy guy who didn’t have his sister’s well-being at the top of his pri­or­i­ty list. Dur­ing a long night of astro­nom­ic obser­va­tion, Caroline’s leg was impaled on a hook but he couldn’t hear her cries of pain. He was con­cen­trat­ing hard!

After each pro­file, there are “extra cred­it” points that didn’t fit into the nar­ra­tive but they’re awful­ly inter­est­ing.

Don’t you love this tid­bit about Grace Mur­ray Hop­per, com­put­er sci­en­tist? “When Grace Mur­ray Hop­per was sev­en, she took her alarm clock apart to see how it worked. Her par­ents were impressed—until she took apart sev­en more. They lim­it­ed her to dis­man­tling one clock at a time, but they ful­ly sup­port­ed her edu­ca­tion.”

Rachel Carson, Lives of the Scientists, illustration copyright Kathryn Hewitt

Rachel Car­son, Lives of the Sci­en­tists, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kathryn Hewitt

Do you know the work of Chien-Shi­ung Wu, Zhang Heng, and Edwin Hub­ble? There are more famil­iar sci­en­tists as well, peo­ple like Jane Goodall, Albert Ein­stein, Rachel Car­son, and George Wash­ing­ton Carv­er.

This book sup­ports curios­i­ty, inves­ti­ga­tion, and the pur­su­ing of dreams … your kids will enjoy these three- to four-page biogra­phies even if they’re more inclined to mag­ic than sci­ence.

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There’s Nothing to Dooooooooo

by Vic­ki Palmquist

By this point in the sum­mer when I was young, the charm of being out of school had worn off, I’d played every game on my grandma’s shelves, and I’d had a few fights with my friends in the neigh­bor­hood, so I’d retreat­ed to read­ing as many books as I could, con­sum­ing sto­ries like Ms. Pac­man swal­low­ing ener­gy pel­lets.

When your kids claim that there’s noth­ing to do, here are a few sug­ges­tions for books that inspire doing things, think­ing about things, and inves­ti­gat­ing more.

How Come? Every Kid's Science Questions ExplainedAs I was grow­ing up, I believed that I didn’t like sci­ence or math. Turns out it was text­books and work­sheets and tests I didn’t much care for. Give me a para­graph like these two:

One very big num­ber was named by nine-year-old Mil­ton Sirot­ta in 1938.

Milton’s math­e­mati­cian uncle, Edward Kas­ner, asked his nephew what he would call the num­ber one fol­lowed by a hun­dred zeroes. Mil­ton decid­ed it was a googol.”

And the num­ber nam­ing doesn’t stop there. This tid­bit is part of a chap­ter called “What is the last num­ber in the uni­verse”” found in How Come? Every Kid’s Sci­ence Ques­tions Explained (Work­man, 2014), writ­ten by Kathy Wol­lard and illus­trat­ed by Debra Solomon with won­der­ful­ly com­ic and live­ly depic­tions of the con­cepts in the text.

Oth­er chap­ters address must-know top­ics such as “How does a fin­ger on a straw keep liq­uid in?” and “Are ants real­ly stronger than humans?” and “Why do the leaves change col­or in the fall?”

I prob­a­bly don’t need to point out that kids aren’t the only ones who will find this book fas­ci­nat­ing. Read a few chap­ters to your­self at night and you’ll be able to answer those end­less­ly curi­ous chil­dren who pull on your sleeve.

PhotoplayFor the visu­al­ly curi­ous, and I believe that means Every Child, you’ll be inspired by Pho­to­play! Doo­dle. Design. Draw. by M.J. Bron­stein (Chron­i­cle, 2014).

Ms. Bron­stein pro­vides exam­ples and work­space for kids to draw on exist­ing pho­tos (print­ed in the book), telling a sto­ry with those draw­ings or even writ­ing a sto­ry. The book can be used in quite a few dif­fer­ent ways … and then you can take your own pho­tos and print them out for kids to con­tin­ue hav­ing fun and using their imag­i­na­tions.

Who Done It?A book that takes some inves­ti­ga­tion and one that looks like a book for very young chil­dren is actu­al­ly a sophis­ti­cat­ed guess­ing game. The humans and crit­ters line up on Olivi­er Tallec’s game pages in Who Done It? (Chron­i­cle, forth­com­ing in 2015).

A sim­ple ques­tion such as “Who played with that mean cat?” requires look­ing into. Can you spot the most like­ly sus­pect?

For kids who are learn­ing about facial expres­sions, body lan­guage, and tak­ing one’s time to rea­son through a puz­zle, this is an ide­al book that will engen­der good dis­cus­sions or occu­py a few of those “there’s noth­ing to doooooo” hours of sum­mer.

Who Done It?

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Teaching K-2 Science with Confidence

Per­fect Pairs: Using Fic­tion and Non­fic­tion Books to Teach Life Sci­ence, K-2
Melis­sa Stew­art and Nan­cy Ches­ley
Sten­house Books, 2014

Authen­tic sci­ence always begins with a ques­tion, with a fleet­ing thought, with a curi­ous per­son. That curi­ous per­son has an idea, won­ders if it is valid, and then tries to find out. Because won­der­ing is at the heart of dis­cov­ery, each Per­fect Pairs les­son starts with a Won­der State­ment that we’ve care­ful­ly craft­ed to address one Next Gen­er­a­tion Sci­ence Stan­dards Per­for­mance Expec­ta­tion. It is fol­lowed by a Learn­ing Goal, which clear­ly spec­i­fies the new knowl­edge and essen­tial under­stand­ing stu­dents will gain from the les­son. Togeth­er, the Won­der State­ment, Learn­ing Goal, and fic­tion-non­fic­tion book pair launch stu­dents into a fun and mean­ing­ful inves­tiga­tive process. (Per­fect Pairs, pg. 8)

Perfect PairsMelis­sa Stew­art, you and edu­ca­tor Nan­cy Ches­ley cre­at­ed Per­fect Pairs for teach­ers because you felt that children’s lit­er­a­ture could be a fun and effec­tive start­ing point for teach­ing life sci­ence to stu­dents in grades K-2.

In your intro­duc­tion, you state that “many ele­men­tary teach­ers do not have a strong sci­ence back­ground. Some even report being intim­i­dat­ed by their school’s sci­ence cur­ricu­lum and feel ill-equipped to teach basic sci­ence con­cepts. Build­ing sci­ence lessons around children’s books enables many ele­men­tary edu­ca­tors to approach sci­ence instruc­tion with greater con­fi­dence.”

Why does this mat­ter to you?

Because stu­dents can tell when their teach­ers are com­fort­able and con­fi­dent, and when they’re hav­ing fun. If a teacher has a pos­i­tive atti­tude, his or her stu­dents are more like­ly to stay engaged and embrace the con­tent.

So many adults are turned off by or even afraid of sci­ence. They say, “Oh, that’s hard. That’s not for me.” But sci­ence is just the study of how our won­der­ful world works. It affects every­thing we do every day. I hope that Per­fect Pairs will help teach­ers and stu­dents to see that.

What type of sci­ence edu­ca­tion did you receive that pro­pels you to pro­vide this aid to edu­ca­tors?

I do have a degree in biol­o­gy, but my sci­ence edu­ca­tion real­ly began at home with my par­ents. My dad was an engi­neer and my mom worked in a med­ical lab­o­ra­to­ry. From a very young age, they helped me see that sci­ence is part of our lives every day.

As a children’s book author, my goal is to share the beau­ty and won­der of the nat­ur­al world with young read­ers. Per­fect Pairs is an exten­sion of that mis­sion. Nan­cy and I have cre­at­ed a resource to help teach­ers bring that mes­sage to their stu­dents.

For each les­son, where did you start mak­ing your choic­es, with the top­ic, the fic­tion book, or the non­fic­tion book?

We began with the NGSS Per­for­mance Expec­ta­tions, which out­line the con­cepts and skills stu­dents are expect­ed to mas­ter at each grade lev­el.  Each PE has three parts—a dis­ci­pli­nary core idea (the con­tent), a prac­tice (behav­iors young sci­en­tists should engage in, such as ask­ing ques­tions, devel­op­ing mod­els, plan­ning and car­ry­ing out inves­ti­ga­tions, con­struct­ing expla­na­tions, etc.), and a cross-cut­ting con­cept (pat­tern, cause and effect, struc­ture and func­tion, etc.) that bridges all areas of sci­ence and engi­neer­ing. Here’s a sam­ple PE for kinder­garten: “Use obser­va­tions to describe [prac­tice] pat­terns [cross­cut­ting con­cept] of what plants and ani­mals (includ­ing humans) need to sur­vive. [DCI]

Just Like My Papa and Bluebirds Do ItNext, we searched for fic­tion and non­fic­tion books that could be used to help stu­dents gain an under­stand­ing of the tar­get PE. The books became the heart of a care­ful­ly scaf­fold­ed les­son that ful­ly addressed the PE.

In Les­son 1.7,How Young Ani­mals Are Like Their Par­ents,” you paired Toni Buzzeo’s fic­tion title Just Like My Papa with Pamela F. Kirby’s non­fic­tion title, What Blue­birds Do. For this les­son, the Won­der State­ment is “I won­der how young ani­mals are like their par­ents.” Your les­son focus­es on Inher­i­tance of Traits and Vari­a­tion of Traits, look­ing at sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences.

With each les­son, you pro­vide tips for les­son prepa­ra­tion, engag­ing stu­dents, explor­ing with stu­dents, and encour­ag­ing stu­dents to draw con­clu­sions. What process is this estab­lish­ing for teach­ers?

We hope that our three-step inves­tiga­tive process (engag­ing stu­dents, explor­ing with stu­dents, and encour­ag­ing stu­dents to draw con­clu­sions) is some­thing that teach­ers will inter­nal­ize and adopt as they devel­op more sci­ence lessons in the future. The first step focus­es on whet­ting stu­dents’ appetites with a fun activ­i­ty or game. Dur­ing the sec­ond step, teach­ers read the books aloud and work with stu­dents to extract and orga­nize key con­tent from the fic­tion and non­fic­tion texts. Then, dur­ing the final step, stu­dents syn­the­size the infor­ma­tion from the books and     do a fun minds-on activ­i­ty that involves the NGSS prac­tice asso­ci­at­ed with the PE. The prac­tices are impor­tant because research shows that chil­dren learn bet­ter when they actu­al­ly “do” sci­ence.

This Wonder Journal entry shows what a student thinks a young bluebird might look like, pg 149.

This Won­der Jour­nal entry shows what a stu­dent thinks a young blue­bird might look like, pg 149.

In many cas­es, you’ve not only pro­vid­ed ques­tions that teach­ers can ask their stu­dents, but you’ve includ­ed the answers.  Is this the only pos­si­ble answer to the ques­tion?  

In many cas­es, we’ve includ­ed answers to help the teacher learn the sci­ence before work­ing with his or her class. Many ele­men­tary teach­ers have a lim­it­ed sci­ence back­ground and need the sup­port we’ve pro­vid­ed.

Our answers may not be the only ones that stu­dents sug­gest, but they are the ones teach­ers should guide their class to con­sid­er because they devel­op stu­dent think­ing in the right direc­tion for the con­cepts we are tar­get­ing in that par­tic­u­lar les­son.

Establishing a STEM bookshelf in your classroom is one way to promote reading these books as a special experience.

Estab­lish­ing a STEM book­shelf in your class­room is one way to pro­mote read­ing these books as a spe­cial expe­ri­ence.

I appre­ci­ate the pho­tos and exam­ples and kids’ draw­ings you’ve includ­ed through­out the book. How did you go about col­lect­ing these visu­als?

Nan­cy test­ed all the lessons in the book at Pow­nal Ele­men­tary School in Maine. She took the pho­tographs as she was work­ing with the stu­dents, and the stu­dent work in the book was cre­at­ed by those chil­dren. I love the pho­tos because you can tell that the chil­dren are real­ly enjoy­ing them­selves.

Students play the seed-plant Concentration game, pg. 225

Stu­dents play the seed-plant Con­cen­tra­tion game, pg. 225

You pro­vide more than 70 repro­ducibles to accom­pa­ny the lessons in your book, from Won­der Jour­nal Labels to Read­ers’ The­ater Script to sam­ple Data Tables to draw­ing tem­plates. How did you decide which items to pro­vide to teach­ers using your book?

Writ­ing can be a chal­lenge for K-2 stu­dents. We cre­at­ed the Won­der Jour­nal Labels to min­i­mize the amount of writ­ing the chil­dren would have to do. The goal of the oth­er repro­ducibles was to help teach­ers as much as pos­si­ble and reduce their prep time. It was impor­tant to us to cre­ate lessons that were easy and inex­pen­sive to imple­ment.

Lesson 1.7 Wonder Journal Labels, pg. 299

Les­son 1.7 Won­der Jour­nal Labels, pg. 299

To Melis­sa and Nan­cy, I express my grat­i­tude for thought­ful­ly prepar­ing this guide, Per­fect Pairs, that will make sci­ence lessons an approach­able part of les­son plan­ning. Thank you!

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Hands-on History for Spatial Learners

Making HistoryWhen I was in ele­men­tary school, I was nev­er more excit­ed than when the teacher told us we could make a dio­ra­ma or a minia­ture scene of a pio­neer set­tle­ment. The con­cept, plan­ning, and build­ing were thrilling for me. Even though my fin­ished work sel­dom approached the daz­zling dis­play I could see in my head, I learned a great deal about his­to­ry, engi­neer­ing, sci­ence, and card­board from my for­ays into build­ing a small world in three dimen­sions.

We know that some kids learn best this way. They are not only hands-on, but they are spa­tial and visu­al learn­ers, peo­ple who learn best by see­ing and doing.

If you know chil­dren like this, they’ll be delight­ed with Mak­ing His­to­ry: Have a Blast with 15 Crafts (writ­ten by Wendy Fresh­man and Kristin Jans­son), pub­lished by the Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press.

With a short his­tor­i­cal les­son, thor­ough sup­plies list, excel­lent pho­tographs, and step-by-step instruc­tions that include a call-out for adult involve­ment (using scis­sors or a hot glue gun) your favorite kids can make a Makak Gen­er­a­tion Bas­ket or an Ice House (mod­el) or a Día de Los Muer­tos Nichos (a small shad­ow­box with skele­tons depict­ed on them for the Day hon­or­ing the Dead).

metal repousse pendant

Intro­duc­ing a Met­al Foil Repoussé Pen­dant, the authors share that Alice and Flo­rence LeDuc formed Hast­ings Needle­work in 1888 to cre­ate and sell embroi­dered house­hold items that were trea­sured by many as art­work. Bought by influ­en­tial fam­i­lies and fea­tured on mag­a­zine cov­ers, their needle­work was known world­wide. The Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety has more than 800 of their pat­terns in its archives.

With met­al foil, a foam sheet, and house­hold sup­plies such as a pen­cil, pen, and scis­sors, your stu­dents can make a neck­lace or box orna­ment from a Hast­ings Needle­work pat­tern, includ­ed in the book and thought­ful­ly sup­plied online.

Paul Bunyan Action FigureFor your visu­al and spa­tial learn­ers, build­ing a Twister Tor­na­do (did you know that the Mayo Clin­ic was found­ed as the result of a tor­na­do?) or a Paul Bun­yan Action Fig­ure is a sneaky but effec­tive way to make learn­ing mem­o­rable and engag­ing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Literary Madeleine: The Horse

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

The Horse coverThe Horse: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Hors­es in Art
Rachel Barnes and Simon Barnes
Quer­cus Pub­lish­ing 2008

We paint what mat­ters to us…”

Hors­es have always been part pf the human imag­i­na­tion”

                                           —from the intro­duc­tion

While prepar­ing for this month’s Bookol­o­gy I read and looked at many books about hors­es, and this is the one that was total­ly (totes!) unex­pect­ed. I was wowed. Even bet­ter, after an ini­tial perusal I felt com­pelled to page through it again and again, study­ing the text and savor­ing the images.

Cave Painting

Spot­ted Horse Cave Paint­ing
Las­caux, France
Click to enlarge.

In art, paint­ings over a cer­tain size are clas­si­fied as “mon­u­men­tal.” This is a mon­u­men­tal book, 17’’ (h) x 14” (w). Accord­ing­ly, the reproductions—many on dou­ble page spreads—are much larg­er than any that could be viewed on a com­put­er screen; fur­ther, the paper and image qual­i­ty suc­cess­ful­ly con­vey the tac­tile ele­ment of the art­work.

The price tag is also mon­u­men­tal; that along with the size would make this book a ques­tion­able one to add to a school library or a per­son­al col­lec­tion, but its impact as a class­room or liv­ing room vis­i­tor is easy to imag­ine.

Horses, Basilica San Marco

The Hors­es of Saint Mark,
St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca
Venice, Italy
Click to enlarge.

His­to­ry? You bet. The book is orga­nized chrono­log­i­cal­ly, from the cave painters to Picas­so. How did the human rela­tion­ship to hors­es change? Why? How did those changes show up in our art?

Sci­ence? You bet. The green pati­na on the bronze hors­es at Saint Mark’s in Venice is enough to trig­ger many con­ver­sa­tions about basic chem­istry and pol­lu­tion.

The Piebald Horse

The Piebald Horse 1650–4 The Get­ty Cen­ter
Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia USA
Click to enlarge.

Lan­guage arts? You bet. Begin with Paulus Potter’s paint­ing, “The Piebald Horse.” Piebald. This vet­er­an writ­ing teacher smiles at the idea of using the word as a prompt for any num­ber of writ­ing exer­cis­es.

Of course, there would be some class­room cau­tions should the book be shared that way. Because the focus is on West­ern art, the ear­ly sec­tions include a fair amount of Chris­t­ian imagery. And—yet again—most of the (known) artists are white men.

The Horse Fair

The Horse Fair, 1853–5 Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art New York, New York USA Click to enlarge.

The excep­tions to the white-guys trope are fab­u­lous, though, and they should be added to any list of report-wor­thy indi­vid­u­als:

Rosa Bon­heur (The Horse Fair, left): “In order to make stud­ies at the horse sale in Paris she obtained police per­mis­sion to dress up as a man, so she could move more eas­i­ly around the crowd” (p.123). 

Bronco Busting

Bron­co Bust­ing c.1925–35 Smith­son­ian Amer­i­can Art Muse­um, Wash­ing­ton DC USA Click to enlarge.

Veli­no Shi­je Her­rera (Bron­co Bust­ing, right): “Her­rera was born in Zia Pueblo in New Mex­i­co. He became rec­og­nized for his quo­tid­i­an scenes of the Pueblo Indi­an Life … this work is signed with his Native Amer­i­can name Ma Pe Wi” (p. 184).

One final warn­ing: this is not a lap book. To savor it you will need a table and time.

 

 

 

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Gravity

Gravity

What is grav­i­ty? I have a notion (after many years of school) that it keeps my feet touch­ing the ground. When I jump into the air, I am defy­ing grav­i­ty. What is Grav­i­ty? A book. Writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jason Chin, who pre­vi­ous­ly gift­ed us with Red­woods and Coral Island and Gala­pa­gos. He has a […]

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The Fourteenth Goldfish

The ver­sa­tile Jen­nifer L. Holm pens a fan­ta­sy this time around, but it’s a sto­ry suf­fused with humor and sci­ence, deft­ly ask­ing a mind-blow­ing ques­tion: is it a good thing to grow old? So what hap­pens when a 13-year-old boy shows up on your doorstep, argu­ing with your mom, who invites him in, and it […]

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Books Plus: The Goods by McSweeney’s

The Goods by McSweeney’s: Games and Activ­i­ties for Big Kids, Lit­tle Kids, and Medi­um-Size Kids edit­ed by Mac Bar­nett and Bri­an McMullen fea­tur­ing Adam Rex, Jon Sci­esz­ka, and more Big Pic­ture Press, an imprint of Can­dlewick Press, 2013 For your hol­i­day gift-giv­ing con­sid­er­a­tion … An over­sized book filled with every imag­in­able dis­trac­tion, this should be […]

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Cooking up a bookstorm

One of my favorite gen­res of read­ing is cook­books. It all began when I was ten, the Christ­mas of 1963. My moth­er gave me Bet­ty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1957 by Gold­en Books, illus­trat­ed by Glo­ria Kamen, and writ­ten by, well, Bet­ty Crock­er, of course! A lot of cook­ing […]

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Celebrating Earth Day

How did you cel­e­brate? How about your class­room? Your library? Your fam­i­ly? We went to Joyce Sid­man’s pub­li­ca­tion par­ty for Ubiq­ui­tous: Cel­e­brat­ing Nature’s Sur­vivors (Houghton Mif­flin), illus­trat­ed with linoleum block prints by Becky Prange, who lives in Ely, Min­neso­ta, and was trained as a sci­en­tif­ic illus­tra­tor. When Joyce explained how Becky cre­at­ed the amaz­ing time­line […]

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