Thursday, March 31, 2016

Using Biographical Letters to Draw on the Nature of Science

I came across a useful article pouring over some old NSTA magazines -- Using Biographical Letters to Draw on the Nature of Science by William Medina-Jerez, Wayne Melville, and Dale Walker.

"Science is a human activity with a rich, colorful, and controversial history. Teaching science from a historical perspective can influence the way students perceive, understand, and apply scientific concepts and processes."

How true! The article brought to mind the story of Nikolai Vavilov in my latest book, THE STORY OF SEEDS. Vavilov's story, crucial to the history of seed science, farming, and food, shaped my ongoing research for the book and my writing. I found his story compelling and worth sharing with my readers. By the time I finished visiting Russia and writing the book  I felt as if Vavilov was a personal friend.

Readers of THE STORY OF SEEDS might take the suggestion of the article's authors and write a biographical letter about Vavilov, Burbank, or Mendel.

Other books that might inspire this activity for your classroom include Deborah Heiligman's Charles and Emma, Susan Campbell Bartoletti's Terrible Typhoid Mary, and Anita Silver's Untamed

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ten Years since Katrina

Many books have been written in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall - both fiction and factual.

These deserve a read:

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown

In this recent release, Don Brown describes the events that took place through gritty, somber watercolor illustrations and bits of dialogue. This is Brown's third successful nonfiction graphic novel. In the short time since its release it has already garnered much acclaim.

Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson
Fifteen-year-old Laurel is living a post-Katrina nightmare. Her mother and grandmother both perished in the storm and she has since moved to Galilee, Mississippi. Woodson weaves a poetic tale of grief, addiction, and survival as Laurel struggles to start a new life.

Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson & Mary Nether
This nonfiction picture book tells the tale of Bobbi, a dog who was left chained on the porch with bowls of food and water and Bob Cat, who stayed with Bobbi even after Bobbi broke free of his chain. The two became an unlikely pair of Katrina survivors. Shelter volunteers rescued the pair four months later to find that Bob Cat was blind and Bobbi was his seeing-eye dog. They lived together after Katrina on a ranch in Oregon.

Thankfully, after Katrina important laws were passed to allow for the care of pets during disasters.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to award winning author Candace Fleming speak out writing her latest - The Family Romanov - last week at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Los Angeles.

If you haven't read this one yet, by all means READ IT! I have been fascinated by Russian history and the Romanovs for years, but this book brought me to places I hadn't explored. In her acceptance speech for her Golden Kite, Candace discussed how this was originally a book about Anastasia, but her research led her away from the young, naive girl to Anastasia's parents and their leadership. Research can pull you in different directions, as we writers of veritable books (nonfiction) know.  Candace mentioned in her workshop that her research on Faberge eggs never even entered the book.

What readers will find in The Family Romanov is a rich story of intrigue, notorious characters, drama, and tragedy. Teens will gobble up the dramatic narrative. History teachers will want it for their classrooms.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Thirteen years ago today an immeasurable tragedy occurred in our country. We all came away changed and scarred. Amidst all the horror of that day were the heroics of the first responders and the SAR workers.

I heard their stories while I worked on Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World. It was an honor to speak to Shirley Hammond about her time at Ground Zero with her dog, Sunny. A volunteer, Shirley went without question. I heard about Sunny's discovery of a fallen firefighter and his confusion of how to alert to a deceased person after being trained as a live-find dog.

I also heard about brave little Sage, a border collie, who took part in her very first deployment at the Pentagon that day. She was the one who located the body of the terrorist who flew the plane into the Pentagon.

On this day of remembering I encourage you all to set aside a few dollars to contribute to the National Search Dog Foundation and the Sage Foundation for Dogs Who Serve.  These dogs and their handlers are always there for us and they need our support. 

And you won't even have to dump a bucket of cold water on your head! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Celebrate Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Birthday!

If you haven't read The Little Prince today is the day! Take the book outside to a quiet picnic table or rock by a lake and enjoy! 

The Morgan Library recently held an exhibit of The Little Prince. It showed all of the revisions that went in to the writing and the illustrations. Seeing the author's process was fascinating.  I knew I loved the book, (my childhood copy sits on desk's bookshelf!) but that exhibit made me love it even more. I wanted to bottle it all up and take it home so that I could savor it. Unfortunately, the Morgan did not publish a guide to the exhibit.  

That brings me to Peter Sis' new book -- The Pilot and The Little Prince. 

NPR did a fabulous interview with Peter Sis about the book, making me want to read it all the more. The life of aviator/author Antoine de Saint-Exupery is intriguing. I am thrilled that Sis took up the subject! 

Please let me know how you like the books. I have a feeling they will be equally unforgettable. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

On Joining a Book Club

Yes, I finally did it. I joined a book club!

I was in a fantastic mother/daughter book club when my daughter was younger. We had some great discussion, but it's been awhile.  That isn't to say I haven't had book discussions. Oh, I've had plenty!  And good ones!  And not so good ones! As the Regional Advisor for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Eastern NY region I co-host a monthly meeting. We include a short book discussion at each meeting. But, it's short and we always find that many folks haven't read the book yet. Recently we discussed The Book Thief. Our plan was to hold the discussion so that we could include a conversation about the movie as well. That didn't happen. The movie came and went so quickly that  many of us were unable to get to see it - including me!  By the time I did see it I was ready to talk about it again -- but with who? As my luck would have it a book group was meeting at my church that month and their monthly read was THE BOOK THIEF!!!!  YAY!  Of course, I just had to go. And it was wonderful! I thoroughly enjoyed the deep discussion we had and knew I was hooked.

Our next book -- The Night Circus -- one of my very favorites! I can't wait!

I'd love to hear about your book groups. What books have you read? Which were your favorites to discuss?

And, by the way, I loved the movie version!  No, it wasn't as good as the book - how could it be?  But it was wonderful too.