Friday, May 22, 2015

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I'm Gobsmacked

I never pass up an occasion to use "gobsmacked." It's one of my favorite words. And it perfectly describes how I feel today, right at this very moment.

I've written 184 books. I've also written about 30 manuscripts that will probably never be published. They lead quiet lives in the middle drawer of a file cabinet in my office.

Each and every time I complete a new manuscript, I'm happy with it. I think it's the best it can be, the best I can make it. But I have no idea how it will be received by the world. Will it find a publisher? Will it get rejected?

If it is published, will it find an audience? Will it be ignored? I just don't know.

That's why I'm surprised-honored-delighted-amazed and, yes, absolutely gobsmaked that FEATHERS: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, has just received the 2015 Crystal Kite Award. It means so much to me that my SCBWI colleagues selected this little book for such a huge honor.

And that's not all. FEATHERS has also received the Nerdy Book Club Award, the Cybils Award, and the John Burroughs Riverby Award for Nature Writing. It's an ALA notable and a National Science Teachers Association-Children’s Book Council Outstanding Science Trade Book. Never before have I written a book that has received so many honors.

I'm thrilled beyond words with these accolades because every time a respected organization shines a little light on FEATHERS, I know the book will make it into more schools and libraries and homes. It will be read by more children, and hopefully, inspire them to treasure the beauty and wonder of the natural world as much as I do. If this book, if any one of my books prompts a child take a closer look at a feather, to look under a rock, or to chase after a butterfly just to see where its going, then my job is done.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Science-Literacy-Connection

If I were a fisher, I'd sleep in this fissure.

This fun sentence came to me as I was photographing this enticing crevice, and then I thought what a great homophone lesson! Homophones are two (or more) words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

Small groups of fourth or fifth graders would enjoy looking through photos to inspire their own sentences with homophones. Students this age also enjoy creating jokes that involve homophones.

Q: What happened when T. rex tripped on a branch?
A: It got a dino sore.

Here's a  joke that takes advantage of a homograph (a word with two or more different meanings) as well as a homophone:
Q: Why did the fly fly?
A: The spider spied her.

These activities are great on their own, but they'd be even better after students have read the wonderful novel Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin.







Friday, May 15, 2015

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Behind the Books: Revision: Correcting vs. Improving

During school visits, I often show this slide and explain that it’s the three-page rough draft for When Rain Falls.
Then I ask the students if they can guess why there are red marks all over the paper.

What I’m hoping is that they’ll come up with are the words “edits” or “revision,” and sometimes they do. But more often they use language like “corrections” or “mistakes that need to be fixed.”

For a while, I accepted these answers and gently guided them toward the words “edits” and “revision.” But then I realized that the students had a misconception that I needed to address.

Writing isn’t like doing math. When it comes to word choice and crafting sentences and paragraphs, there are no right or wrong answers. Instead, writers should focus on transforming their writing to make it better—clearer, more concise, more engaging. Revision isn’t about fixing something that’s wrong. It’s about IMPROVING a piece of writing so that it better meets the author’s goals.

Revising is like doing layups until the basketball swooshes through the basket every time. It’s like playing a clarinet solo over and over until the musician is sure he or she will get it right at the concert.

This is what I try to stress to the children I work with during school visits, and I hope it’s what teachers are saying to students during writing workshop.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Science-Literacy Connection

Bumblebees rejoice!
Yellow trout lilies provide
springtime sustenance.

I posted this haiku last week on Twitter and Facebook, but then I realized I wanted to share more than just the poem.

It all began with a joyful romp in the woods with my husband over the weekend. We knew the time was right for wildflowers, so we went out to see what we could find.

After much memory prodding while we were on the trail, I remembered that these little beauties are called yellow trout lilies (because the pattern on the leaves reminded people of the spots on a trout).

We noticed mayflies landing on the flowers, so I wondered if they pollinate the plant. When we returned home, I did some quick research and discovered that early native bees, such as bumblebees, are the most common pollinators of trout lilies. And that inspired my haiku.

Wouldn't that make a great science lesson for kids?
1. Discover something in nature.
2. Write a wonder statement about it: "I wonder if mayflies pollinate yellow trout lilies."
3. Do some research to find the answer.
4. Document that new knowledge in a poem.

Because I wrote that haiku, I guarantee that I'll never forget what pollinates those flowers. Isn't that the kind of thing you'd like young explorers to be able to recall when they're 40, 50, 60 years old? And couldn't carrying that knowledge change the way they think about the natural world? I think it could.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Behind the Books: Even More About Nonfiction Structure

Okay, I admit it. I’m obsessed with structure in nonfiction writing. I could talk about it all night and all day. And sometimes I do.

The more I discuss the topic with people like Alyson Beecher, Cathy Potter, Carrie Gelson, Mary Ann Scheuer, Loree Burns, Deb Heiligman, and Sarah Albee, the more I learn and the more my ideas and understanding evolve.
I think it’s interesting that a huge majority of nonfiction books for kids have a sequence structure. I used to focus on narrative nonfiction when I discussed sequence structure, and to be sure, all narrative books (that I can think of, as least) have that structure. I even went so far as to divide sequence structure into at least 5 subcategories.

But recently I’ve begun to notice more and more expository texts with a sequence structure, and I’ve started to develop some subcategories. I plan to keep working on this during my summer reading binge, but here’s what I have so far:
 
Chronological sequence structure, expository style
Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee

Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee

Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History by Sarah Albee

Cumulative sequence structure, expository writing style
Here Is the Tropical Rain Forest by Madeleine Dunphy

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox

How-to sequence structure, expository writing style
Dessert Designers: Creations You Can Make and Eat by Dana Meachen Rau

How to Swallow a Pig by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes by Doug Stillinger

Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl

Try This! 50 Fun Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by Karen Romano Young

What do you think?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Understanding NGSS

The Teaching Channel and Achieve have teamed up to create four really excellent videos about the Next Generation Science Standards. They can help you (1) understand the rationale behind the new standards and (2) tweak your current lessons to emphasize the central tenets of the standards.

All of the examples in the videos are related to earth and physical science, but they apply to life sciences too. Teaching life sciences can be tricky because it's hard to design experiments that allow children to directly experience life science concepts and processes. That's why Nancy Chelsey and I wrote Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Books to Teach Life Science, K-2. We are currently working on a companion title for students in grades 3-5.

Perfect Pairs combines science and language arts by creating fun, engaging lessons in which students are introduced to important life science concepts through high-quality, science-themed books. Then the students participate in innovative, minds-on activities that reinforce the content as children develop the critical skills emphasized by both CCSS and NGSS.




Friday, May 1, 2015

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.