December 10 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

The month of December is a gift-giver’s delight and looking at the long winter ahead there’s no better gift for everyone on your list than a book (or two or…). With so many new books hitting bookstore shelves, there really is a perfect book to fit everyone’s taste. Young children, especially, benefit from reading a wide range of picture books from laugh-out-loud or touching stories to nonfiction that introduces them to influential people, science, history, and nature. If you’re looking for gifts to give, it’s not too late to head to your local bookstore or their online shop to find books that will make your child’s eyes light up.

A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by Kate Slater

 

When you “slurp up your milkshake” or cut up your meat or even cool down with an air conditioner, do you ever wonder how birds accomplish these things? They don’t have hands to hold tools, but that’s okay because each type of bird has just the tool they need to survive handily attached right to its face – its beak! How does each bird use its beak to find food? Sara Levine and Kate Slater let you take a peek at how birds’ beaks are uniquely suited for the foods they eat and the places where they find it as well as for grooming and nest-building.

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Take that straw we people use to sip up every last drop of a delicious milkshake or glass of lemonade, for instance. Which bird “has a beak shaped like a straw? A hummingbird!” And while hummingbirds don’t “suck up nectar from flowers” through their beaks, “they use their beaks to make their way into tight, narrow places where flowers store nectar. Then their long tongues reach in to gather the treat.” 

If you look into the family toolbox, you’ll probably find a hammer and a needle-nosed pliers. Are there birds whose beaks do similar jobs as these? You bet! The rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker searching for grubs or insects in a tree trunk sounds just about the same as the tap-tap-tap or bang-bang-bang of a hammer, and there are shoreline birds that use their long, thin beaks to “probe deep into the mud to find crustaceans, insects, and worms. A special sensory organ at the beak’s tip lets the bird feel when a meal is nearby.” Can you guess which ones they are?

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Kids who love helping out in the kitchen will be fascinated to learn that there are birds with beaks that act as strainers, nutcrackers, knives, and tongs. And if you think we’re sophisticated with our central air-conditioning one very distinct bird is born with this capability, while a more common bird has one-upped our technological advances by offering it’s chicks a one-touch “take-out” button long before the smartphone was ever developed. 

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Sure, you might think – birds can find food and build nests with their beaks, but can they show love? The answer is… Yes! The gannet is especially adept at demonstrating their feelings, and they don’t care who hears it. While “many birds show affection with their beaks,… gannets particularly stand out. These birds raise their beaks in the air and clatter them together to show how much they like each other.” After you’ve learned about all of these amazing birds and their beaks, maybe you’d like to raise a ruckus to show your appreciation too! 

Back matter includes a discussion on the evolution of bird beaks and how they change over time and a list of other books for further reading.

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Bird, nature, and science lovers as well as teachers and homeschoolers will be fascinated with Sara Levine’s clever way to engage kids in learning about birds by comparing their beaks to well-known tools children and adults use every day. Especially interesting are descriptions of the birds whose beaks’ special abilities are hidden, such as water birds that use their beaks as strainers to filter out water, sand and dirt before swallowing the nutritious plants and animals left behind. Along with information on the construction of birds’ beaks and how, exactly, birds use them, readers learn about the diet of various species and where they hunt for food.

Levine is always an insightful and captivating educator who sparks kids’ interest in nature-science learning and spurs them to further research. Her question-and-answer format gets kids thinking, observing, and theorizing in a way that increases understanding and resonates across subject matter. At-home birdwatchers will also enjoy watching out for the birds depicted in this book and their behavior.

Kate Slater’s mixed-media collage illustrations are vibrant and textured, adding lovely depth to each page. Her silhouettes of birds sporting tool where it’s beak should be are intriguing invitations for kids to ponder and guess at the answers to Levine’s questions before turning the page to discover the answer. Slater populates the pages with a wide variety of birds, realistically depicted, that will kindle an interest in readers and adults to delve into further research on these fascinating and charming creatures.

A unique and high-interest way to engage kids in learning about birds and nature, A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use is highly recommended for bird-lovers at home as well as for science, environment, and nature learning collections in schools and public libraries. 

Ages 5 – 9

Millbrook Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1541587342

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kate Slater, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Busy Birds Coloring Pages

 

These birds are busy looking for and gathering food to eat! Grab your crayons, pencils, or markers, print the pages, and give the birds and their surroundings some color!

Hummingbird at Flower | Robin Grabbing a Worm | Bird on Branch

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You can find A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 26 – It’s National Popcorn Poppin’ Month

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About the Holiday

National Popcorn Poppin’ Month has been celebrated in October for more than 30 years and was made official in 1999 by then Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. With its salty crunchiness and that enticing Pop Pop Pop rhythm, this snack is a favorite the world over. Its history goes back to the Aztecs and beyond. Early explorers of the 1500s wrote about native peoples roasting corn until it popped and described it as looking like a “white flower.” It was eaten and also strung for decoration.

Most people now eat popcorn with salt and butter, but can you imagine having it with milk? Way before Corn Flakes and Cheerios came on the scene, people ate popcorn as cereal! Popcorn’s popularity, well, popped during the Great Depression, when it was one of the only treats people could afford. Why not pop up a batch today! For more interesting popcorn facts and recipes visit www.popcorn.org.

Let’s Pop Pop Popcorn!

Written by Cynthia Schumerth | Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles

 

A group of kids plants rows of seeds, which with rain and sun grow unseen until “Surprise! Like magic sprouts appear! / Green and tender, finally here.” The kids help their plants grow by pulling weeds and watching out for pests. The seeds grow and grow until they are taller—much taller—than the children. What are the kids growing? Corn, but not just any corn…. Can you guess?

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the ears are picked, shucked, and dried, the kernels are ready to be tossed “Plink, plunk, plink” into a pot and heated up. Do you know what kind of corn it is now, or do you need another hint? Okay… “Steam builds around each kernel’s germ, / puffs the starch called endosperm.” A bit of science brings about explosive results then “first one pop! Then pops galore!” You know now! The kids grew their own popcorn! When the pot is overflowing it’s time for “butter, salt, then give a swish. / Lick our fingers—Mmm! Delish!”

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Fascinating back matter reveals the science behind this favorite treat. Diagrams and photographs let kids see inside a popcorn kernel and view the progression of a kernel as it is heated. They also learn about the two different shapes of popcorn and how they are used. A science activity gives readers the steps for growing their own popcorn from seed to sprout and reveals what transformations take place inside the kernel as the little plant grows. A popcorn art project fills out this STEAM lesson that’s sure to be a favorite.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

There may be no more universally loved snack than popcorn, and Cynthia Schumerth makes learning about the science of growing the plants, preparing the ears for popping, and what happens when the kernels are heated lots of fun. Her bouncy rhyming storytelling will engage kids and get them excited about all the lessons these tiny kernels have to teach. Schumerth’s storytelling builds to its “kaboom” moment, mirroring the suspense popcorn lovers listening for that first Pop. Teachers and homeschoolers will love the resources following the story, which provide for a full lesson appropriate for science, nature, or cross-curricular lessons.

Mary Reaves Uhles’s action-packed illustrations will enthrall kids with their close-up perspectives and relatable details, like the little girl who’s wearing a cat’s ears headband as she digs up the ground for planting. Readers go underground to get a worm’s eye view of the kernels sprouting roots, get down in the dirt to pull weeds, and peek into the pot to make sure there’s going to be enough popcorn for the whole crowd. Images of the kernels pop, pop, popping show the process and will make kids plenty hungry. The final spread of all of the kids enjoying their harvest together is a celebration of popcorn and friendship.

An exuberant story that will spark enthusiasm for science learning and gardening, Let’s Pop Pop Popcorn! will be a quick favorite and is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534110427

Discover more about Cynthia Schumerth and her books on her website.

To learn more about Mary Reaves Uhles, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Want to know more about Let’s Pop Pop Popcorn!? You can read my interview with Cynthia Schumerth and Mary Reaves Uhles here!

National Popcorn Poppin’ Month Activity

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Popcorn Blast-Off Game

 

The popcorn is flying! Can you catch it? This is a fun game to celebrate this most delicious month! And if you keep the popcorn socks, it will make a great quick activity for those times when you want to get up and move but just don’t know what to do.

Supplies

  • 6 pairs of girls socks – white
  • A large bag of cotton balls
  • Towel or small blanket

Directions

  1. Stuff the socks with a large handful of cotton balls (about 25)
  2. Knot the sock as you would a balloon and fold down the remaining ankle cuff
  3. Squish the sock to move the cotton balls until your sock looks like a piece of popcorn
  4. Players hold each end of the towel or side of the blanket so it sags
  5. Place popcorn in the middle of the towel or blanket
  6. On the count of 3, players pull tight on the towel or blanket
  7. Try to catch as many flying popcorn pieces in the towel or blanket as you can

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You can find Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 12 – World Elephant Day

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About the Holiday

This year World Elephant Day celebrates its 10th anniversary. The holiday was launched to raise awareness of the dangers the Asian and African elephant populations face. Poaching, habitat destruction, human-elephant conflict, and mistreatment in captivity all threaten these gentle, intelligent creatures. World Elephant Day encourages people to enjoy seeing elephants in safe, non-exploitive environments and to get involved in their protection and survival. To learn more about elephants, discover how you can be elephant ethical, and commemorate today’s holiday with virtual events led by elephant specialists, artists, zoos, and other organizations, visit the World Elephant Day website.

Thanks to Familius for sending me a copy of She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. 

She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch

Written by June Smalls | Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

 

The elephant matriarch is the queen of the family group. “She is usually the oldest, but not always. It is her job to guide and teach her subjects to give them the best opportunities for survival.” Her family group consists of blood relatives—daughters and granddaughters—living together. When groups get too big, some elephants break off and form their own group. The matriarch leads the other elephants to food and water, and when water is scarce “she guides them on journeys to watering holes remembered from long ago.”

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Image copyright Yumi Shimokawara, 2020, text copyright June Smalls, 2020. Courtesy of Familius.

Like a loving grandmother, the matriarch teaches younger elephants how to take care of their little ones. Everyone in the family group helps rear the young. “The clumsy babies are sometimes caught in mud or water and the older elephants will work together to push, pull, or dig to rescue them.”

Sometimes, groups of elephants that once lived together will meet. They remember each other and spend time “foraging for food together. These meetings are like a family reunion.” When danger from another animal lurks, the elephants watch and learn how the matriarch defends them. They also huddle together and surround the smaller elephants for protection. “If nature, or predators, or poachers take her friends, she will comfort and care for the orphans.”

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Image copyright Yumi Shimokawara, 2020, text copyright June Smalls, 2020. Courtesy of Familius.

Little ones grow and play under the watchful eye of the matriarch and, just like human children, “elephants are not born with all the skills they need.” The matriarch helps teach her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren how to use their trunks for heavy work like moving logs and for delicate finessing, such as having the “ability to gently pluck a leaf from a tree.”

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Image copyright Yumi Shimokawara, 2020, text copyright June Smalls, 2020. Courtesy of Familius.

The matriarch also thinks about the future when she won’t be able to lead the group anymore. She passes on her knowledge and skills to the elephants in her lineage, “so that when she is gone another matriarch will lead her family.” When the matriarch does die, the elephants mourn their loss in ways similar to humans. “Elephants have been observed burying their dead with grasses and branches,” and they will return to the spot months later to “touch the bones of their lost family member.” A new matriarch emerges to lead the family group. This is “usually the oldest daughter of the matriarch,” and her call “to her daughters and their daughters” can be heard for miles and miles – sometimes up to 110 square miles – as this new queen begins her reign.

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Image copyright Yumi Shimokawara, 2020, text copyright June Smalls, 2020. Courtesy of Familius.

June Smalls’ tribute to the matriarchal society of elephants and, through her lyrical storytelling, to strong women in every family and community is both poignant and powerful. The main story reveals the role of the matriarch in leading and teaching her daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters over a lifetime, which can span seventy years. Smalls’ stirring text illuminates the similarities between elephants and humans in everyday needs, behavior, memory, familial care, and even in death. In addition to the story, each page spread includes fascinating, and often touching, facts about how a family group forages for enormous amounts of food, finds crucial water supplies, protects each other, rears their young, and sustains each other in the passing of the matriarch. Smalls’ book ends with an inspirational entreaty to young girls to awaken to their future role as leaders.

Yumi Shimokawara’s stunning realistic illustrations of an elephant matriarch leading and teaching her family group in the wild will thrill readers. On each page spread, young readers follow their elephant peer as she (or he, as male elephants stay with the family group until about age thirteen) plucks leaves from a sun-drenched tree, splashes in a watering hole, walks in the shade of two adults on a long, hot journey, is protected from predators, and plays games with sticks and other babies in the group. Shimokawara’s delicate color palette and beautifully composed images depict the intelligence and gentle manner of these animals in lively and tender moments that children will want to view again and again.

An exquisite combination of inspiration and education, She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch will captivate children as a spark for further learning about these majestic animals, the environment, and nature conservation as well as encouragement to bravely take their place in the world with grace, love, and strength. The book is a must for all home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Familius, 2020 | ISBN 978-1641702324

Discover more about June Smalls and her books on her website.

You can find more books from Familius that joyfully reflect the habits of happy families, including reading, talking, laughing, eating, working, loving, healing, learning, and playing together as well as the Familius blog The Habit Hub here.

World Elephant Day Activity

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Elephant Handprint Craft

 

This easy craft is fun for families to do together. Using siblings’ hands or the hands of a child and an adult to make the elephants can make a meaningful and comforting picture to hang in a child’s room or gift for mom, dad, or other family members.

Supplies

  • Craft paint in two colors of the children’s choice
  • Yellow craft paint
  • Black fin-tip marker
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils to make a background
  • Paper
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint one child’s hand and press it on the paper. The thumb is the truck and the fingers make the legs.
  2. Paint the second child’s or adult’s hand and press it on the paper near the other “elephant.” 
  3. After the paint has dried, draw on ears and an eye.
  4. Add a sun with the yellow paint or crayon.
  5. Add grass, trees, or other background features if desired.

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You can buy She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch on the Familius website.

 

This post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure statement here.

Picture Book Review

July 21 – Ask an Archaeologist Day

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About the Holiday

Coming in the middle of the Council of British Archaeology’s Festival of Archaeology, which runs from July 17 to August 1, #AskAnArchaeologistDay gives anyone with a question about archaeology a chance to post their question on Twitter and get an answer. Begun in 2018, Ask an Archaeologist Day has been a huge success with people from all over the world participating. The theme for this year’s Festival of Archaeology is “Exploring Local Places” and encourages people to discover the archaeology all around them, by exploring their area, learning about the past, and discovering stories about the people who founded it as well as those who live and work there now. To learn more about the Festival of Archaeology, the Council of British Archaeology, and the Young Archaeologist’s Club for ages 8 to 16, visit the CBA website

Thanks to Abrams Books for Young Readers for sending me a copy of When Sue Found Sue for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex

Written by Toni Buzzeo | Illustrated by Diana Sudyka

 

Sue Hendrickson was an expert at finding things. The lure of buried or lost treasures kept her busy in her hometown of Munster, Indiana. “Born shy and incredibly smart,” Sue devoured books, discovering everything she could about the things that interested her. One of her favorite places was the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. There, she reveled in the treasures others had found and dreamed of the day when she could “search the wide world for hidden treasure on her own.”

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

When she was seventeen, Sue began her life of treasure hunting, joining teams that searched for sunken boats, airplanes, and even cars. She went to Dominican amber mines looking for prehistoric butterflies and deserts of Peru searching for whale fossils. Finally, she headed to South Dakota to dig for dinosaurs.

She spent four summers unearthing duck-billed dinosaurs, using more and more delicate tools to expose the bones. But near the end of her fourth summer, “Sue Hendrickson felt pulled to a sandstone cliff far off in the distance.” When she had the opportunity, she took her golden retriever and hiked the seven miles to the rock.

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Walking around the perimeter, she noticed what looked like bones lying on the ground. When she looked up, she was astonished to see “three enormous backbones protruding from the cliff.” The size told her they must be from a Tyrannosaurus rex. Sue hurried back to her campsite and told her team the exciting news. They “immediately named the dinosaur Sue the T. rex.”

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

It took five full days for the team to expose the skeleton. Then they mapped the location of each bone, photographing and drawing them. At last they began removing them, and after three weeks the bones were trucked to the Black Hills Institute. Eventually, Sue the T. rex was moved to the Field Museum in Chicago. If you visit the museum today, you will see Sue towering over you. “She is the world’s largest, most complete, best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil discovered so far”—discovered by a woman who was born to find things.

An Author’s Note about Sue Hendrickson and the battle over which institution would display the T. rex skeleton as well as resources for further study and a photograph of Sue the T. rex follow the text.

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Toni Buzzeo’s inspiring story of how Sue Hendrickson discovered the most complete and best-preserved T. rex fossil delves into more than the finding and excavating of the skeleton. Buzzeo also emphasizes Hendrickson’s personality and long-held love of treasure hunting, qualities that informed and aided her career choice. Readers who also harbor dreams outside the mainstream and have a steady focus will find much to admire in Buzzeo’s storytelling and Sue’s example. Kids will be awed by Sue’s early treasure-hunting exploits and fascinated by the painstaking process of unearthing fossils. When Sue follows her intuition to the cliff—without explanation or facts—readers will be reminded that they can rely on their own curiosity, experience, and ideas to carry them forward. With nods toward the value of teamwork and sprinkled with Sue’s own words about her moment of discovery, the story exposes the bones of a life well-lived and points children in the right direction.

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Diana Sudyka opens the story of Sue Hendrickson with a lovely collage of the treasures she found and studied as a child and that led to her life-long love of discovery. As Sue grows, she visits the Field Museum, with its exhibits of a Triceratops and Hadrosaurus. Fast-forward several years and she’s swimming in a sea dotted with colorful coral toward an old sunken ship. But the centerpiece of the story takes place in the South Dakota hills, the layers of rock painted in stripes of earthy brown, rust, rose, and ivory. As the team works late nights to excavate the bones, a T. rex constellation appears above the team in the starry sky, urging them on. A two-page spread of how Sue the T. rex fossil appeared in its entirety in the ground is sure to elicit plenty of “Wows!,” and a rendition of Sue on exhibit in the Field Museum will no doubt inspire some travel wishes.

A book about a modern-day scientist that will engage and inspire children with scientific aspirations of their own as well as a celebration of individuality and big dreams and a must for dinosaur lovers, When Sue Found Sue would be a T. riffic addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419731631

Discover more about Toni Buzzeo and her books on her website.

To learn more about Diana Sudyka, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Dinosaur Day Activity

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Hatch Your Own Dinosaur Eggs

 

Think there are no more dinosaur eggs to be found? Think again! You can make your own with this easy craft that will have you hatching some T.-rex-size fun! All you need are a few simple ingredients!

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Supplies

  • Old clothes or apron
  • Large box of baking soda (makes between 6 and 8 eggs)
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Plastic dinosaur toys
  • Bowl
  • Fork
  • Spoon
  • Wax paper
  • Baking sheet
  • Foil
  • Vinegar
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Plastic or metal spoon, stick, popsicle stick, or other implement to chisel with
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Spray the egg with vinegar to hatch your dinosaur

Directions

  1. Wear old clothes or an apron
  2. Cover work surface with wax paper, parchment paper, newspaper, or other protection. Food coloring can stain some surfaces
  3. Pour baking soda into the bowl
  4. Add drops of food coloring in whatever color you’d like your eggs to be. The eggs will darken when baked.
  5. Mix in the food coloring with the fork. You may want to use your hands, too
  6. When the baking soda is the color you want it, begin adding water a little at a time
  7. Add water until the baking soda holds together when you squeeze it in your hand
  8. When the baking soda is the right consistency, spoon some out into your hand or onto wax paper
  9. Push one plastic dinosaur into the middle
  10. Cover the dinosaur with more of the baking soda mixture
  11. Carefully form it into an egg shape
  12. Repeat with other dinosaurs
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Chisel the egg open to hatch your dinosaur

To Bake the Eggs

  1. Set the oven or toaster oven to 200 to 225 degrees
  2. Set the eggs on a baking sheet lined with foil
  3. Bake the eggs for 15 minutes, check
  4. Turn the eggs over and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes
  5. Remove from oven and let cool

To Hatch the Eggs

  1. Eggs can be hatched by chiseling them with a spoon, stick, or other implement
  2. Eggs can also be hatched by spraying or sprinkling them with vinegar

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You can find When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 19 – Celebrating the Perseid Meteor Showers with Sandra Nickel

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Sandra Nickel says that story ideas are everywhere; you just have to reach out and grab them.  She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her first book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, was a Golden Kite Award finalist. Sandra lives in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she blogs about children’s book writers and illustrators at whatwason.com.

You can connect with Sandra on Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Hi Sandra, thanks so much for stopping by to talk about your latest picture book The Stuff Between the Stars, the beauty of summer nights, and your favorite childhood memory!

My favorite summer memory from my childhood is lying on a blanket at night and watching the shooting stars. Everything about it screams “childhood summer” to me. Warm nights. Fireflies. Grass pricking through the blanket. Late-night snacks. Pillows outside. The whole family together. Getting to stay up until midnight. And the incredible magic and wonder of shooting stars lighting up the sky. Each individual aspect is imbued with summer. But when you put them all together and add to the mix that it only happened once each August, it holds an incredibly vibrant and loved spot in my childhood memory box.

This year’s Perseid meteor shower—because in fact those shooting stars are shooting meteors—will be from July 17th to August 24th, with peak meteors expected to be around August 12th. For childhood memory-building, the must-haves are blankets, insect spray, a light-free yard, and late-night snacks. That said, a little preparation on your part will add richness and new discoveries to the experience.

The meteor shower is a great time to learn constellations. Why not brush up on those mythological pictures in the sky to prepare for the big night? There are many children’s books about constellations. One of my favorites is National Geographic’s classic Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations.

Gazing at the night sky is also a great time to open up your young stargazer’s mind. During school visits while talking about The Stuff Between the Stars and Vera Rubin, I show students this picture and ask what they see. If you’re not in a rush, take a moment and look.

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Credit: skysafariastronomy.com

What do we see?

The Moon

Stars

That bright spot is Venus

We see the stars because they burn. They are making their own light, like a summer campfire does. We see the moon because it reflects light from the biggest star around, the Sun. The same goes for the planets, like Venus. They reflect the Sun’s light.

So, we see the Moon, stars, and planets. And that’s pretty much all we see in the sky, right? But what’s there that we are not even thinking about? What are we looking right past?

Everything that doesn’t shine.

Before Vera Rubin, we thought, if it doesn’t shine, there’s nothing there. It’s empty space. And that’s the idea that Vera proved wrong. All that dark in the night sky makes up most of the universe. It’s filled with stuff. And that stuff is called dark matter. Not because it’s something scary, like turning to the Dark Side in Star Wars. It’s dark matter only because it doesn’t make its own light like stars or reflect light like planets.

Now, we still don’t know what dark matter is made of because we can’t see it or smell it or hear it. However, we know what it does. It has gravity. It has pull. And it holds the stars in galaxies together so that we can enjoy them on summer nights with family and friends.

With the end of July approaching, why not gather blankets, insect spray and your favorite late-night snacks to enjoy the meteor shower? It’s a wonderful way to fill a childhood memory box—and maybe even your adult one too.

What a wonderful, unforgettable way to spend a summer night! Thanks so much for sharing your memories as well as your love for the mysteries of our universe.

About the Perseid Meteor Showers

 

Active between July 17 and August 24 in the northern hemisphere, the Perseid meteor shower lights up the sky, thrilling astronomers and casual observers alike. The Perseids are particles released from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle when it interacts with our atmosphere. They get their name from the fact that the radiant (its point of origin) is located near the constellation of Perseus. The best time to view the showers is after midnight around 2:00 a.m., but they may be seen as early as 10:00 p.m. The best place to observe them is in an area with low light pollution. This year the Perseids reach their peak on the night of August 11 – 12.

NASA describes the Perseids as “very fast and bright meteors [that] frequently leave long “wakes” of light and color behind them as they streak through Earth’s atmosphere. They’re also known for their fireballs, which are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. The Perseids are one of the most plentiful showers, with 50-100 meteors seen per hour.

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The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

Written by Sandra Nickel | Illustrated by Aimée Sicuro

 

From the time she was a little girl, Vera Rubin had been fascinated with the night sky. As she gazed through her bedroom window, she saw when “the stars were stirring, and something bright stirred in Vera too.” She began studying everything she could about the stars, planets, and how they interacted in the night sky. She even made her own telescope from a cardboard tube and a lens.

At seventeen Vera began attending Vassar College as the only astronomy major in her class. Here, she could use the school’s telescope whenever she wanted. As a young astronomer she presented her idea that “galaxies rotated around a center in the universe like the Big Dipper circled the North Star.” But when she presented her conclusions at a meeting of America’s top astronomers, they told her her ideas were “outlandish” and “ridiculous.” 

As a young mother, Vera worked on another question that interested her. She wondered if galaxies were scattered haphazardly or whether there was “a pattern to where they spun.” After many late nights doing calculations, Vera determined that galaxies were “clumped together like dew drops on a spider’s web.” This was a major discovery; one that earned her a doctorate in astronomy, but America’s top astronomers continued to ignore her.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

While her children were growing up, Vera began teaching astronomy at colleges in Washington D.C. Other astronomers began hearing about her and wanting to know more about her ideas that had been dismissed in the past. More than anything, Vera wanted to view the sky from the observatory at the Carnegie Institution in the California mountains. She wanted this so much that she went to the Carnegie Institution and asked for a job. After she explained her work and theories to the other scientists, they gave her a job. Here she studied the “slow-moving stars at the edges of the galaxies.”

Vera next studied the Andromeda Galaxy and was astounded to discover that the stars at the edge of the galaxy didn’t move slower for being far away from its center of gravity; they moved at the same speed. She determined from this as well as from studying 200 other galaxies that there was something unseen at work between the stars. Vera believed this was “dark matter” and presented her findings to other astronomers. This time they listened, making her a prominent light in her beloved field.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Sandra Nickel’s straightforward and comprehensive storytelling gives kids a well-rounded view of Vera Rubin’s life as she doggedly pursued a career in astronomy despite all the naysayers and snubs along the way and made an astounding discovery that still baffles scientists today. Nickel does an excellent job of explaining the complex ideas Rubin studied, theorized on, and wrote about, allowing readers to fully understand her impact on the field of astronomy and our understanding of the universe. 

Through Aimée Sicuro’s mixed-media illustrations, readers follow Vera Rubin as she matures from a curious child who loves watching the night sky to a college student to a mother to an astronomer making discoveries that changed the way scientists understood the universe. Her detailed images give kids visual representations of Rubin’s work and ideas. The final image of a group of children gazing up at the night sky as a shooting star flashes by offers an inspirational quote from Vera Rubin.

Ages 6 – 9

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419736261

Discover more about Sandra Nickel and her books on her website.

To learn more about Aimée Sicuro, her books, and her art, visit her website.

You can find Curriculum Guides and Activity Sheets for kids on Sandra Nickel’s website.

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Kids will love Sandra’s other book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez!

Ages 6 – 11

Lee & Low Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1620143698

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You can find The Stuff Between the Stars at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 8 – Math 2.0 Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2009, Math 2.0 Day celebrates math and technology and how these two disciplines complement each other. The day was conceived to bring together mathematicians, programmers, engineers, educators, and managers to raise awareness of the importance of math literacy at all levels of education. For kids a love of math and technology begins early as they experiment and explore every day during playtime, family time and even, as today’s book shows, at bedtime.

Thank you to Charlesbridge for sending me a copy of  The Animals Would Not Sleep! for review consideration. All opinions about the books are my own.

The Animals Would Not Sleep!

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns

 

All of Marco’s stuffed “animals were making a ruckus” when his mom told him it was time to get cleaned up and ready for bed. She wanted to see all the toys put away, so Marco, who thought like a scientist, got to work. He wanted to sort his animals like a scientist would, so he got out three baskets and made signs for Flying Animals, Swimming Animals, and Animals That Move on Land. Then he picked up his dancing flamingo, bird, bat, and ladybug and put them in the first basket. He placed his octopus, stingray, frog, fish, whale, and seal in the second basket, and his dinosaur, giraffe, bears, snake, pangolin, gecko, mice, and zebra in the third basket.

But the animals were still wide awake, and “they egged one another on until not one remained in its container.” Marco thought they would settle down, but when his mom called the second time, he reconsidered his strategy. This time he made signs that sorted the animals by color, but zebra started to cry. He was afraid being in such close quarters with black-and-white snake and stingray, plus he missed his friend giraffe.

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Image copyright Marta Álvarez Miguéns, 2020, text copyright Sara Levine, 2020. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Marco decided to try again. He took all of his animals out and made signs that read Small, Medium, and Large. Things seemed to quiet down, so Marco began to put on his pajamas. But then he heard moaning and groaning coming from the Large basket. When he went to check, Dinosaur and Dancing Flamingo complained about being too cramped. Plus, Dancing Flamingo missed Rainbow Bear. Then he heard noises from the Small basket. Those animals weren’t happy either.

Marco’s mom gave him two minutes to get it all sorted out. Fortunately for Marco, being a scientist meant “he was used to coming up with ideas and thinking outside the box.” The animals were getting tired, and Yellow Bear had just burst into tears for no apparent reason. Like a good scientist, Marco cared about his animals and wanted them to be happy. He had one more sorting idea. With the large animals, medium-sized animals, and small animals all tucked in with plenty of room and their friends nearby on Marco’s bed, Marco got under the cozy covers. He got a goodnight kiss from Mom and then they all fell happily to sleep.

Back matter includes an illustrated Author’s Note about the way scientists sort, or classify, animals by their characteristics as well as a discussion that explores the math in the story. “Try This!” tips provided by Karen Economopoulos, co-director of the Investigations Center for Curriculum and Professional Development at TERC, give adults ideas for various ways to engage children in sorting.

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Image copyright Marta Álvarez Miguéns, 2020, text copyright Sara Levine, 2020. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Perfectly capturing the way young children interact with their toys, Sara Levine combines imagination and scientific thinking in her inventive story, part of the Storytelling Math series from Charlesbridge. In Marco, who’s proud of his scientific thinking, Levine shows readers that they, too, already think like a scientist. Marco’s empathy for his animals’ complaints will get kids thinking about classification and the various ways they might sort the animals. Levine’s use of realistic dialogue that echoes bedtime routines in many homes and gives each character—human and animal—distinct personalities will draw kids in to this charming story that is organically infused with strong math lessons. Levine gives Marco a sweet final solution to his problem that will please kids and have them wanting to extend the lessons in the story to their own toys and/or household objects while they think like a scientist too.

Marta Álvarez Miguéns opens the story with an enchantingly wild two-page spread where Marco stands in the middle of his room as his toys bounce on the bed, climb blocks, juggle, fly, and cause a ruckus. Turn the page, though, and these animals now lie motionless around the room as Mom peeks in to check on Marco. When Marco sorts his animals into the baskets, readers can clearly see which animals go where and why. Kids will knowingly giggle when the just-sorted animals spring from their resting places to prolong bedtime. Miguéns also plainly depicts Marco’s and the animals’ facial expressions from happy and playful to sad and crying to peaceful and satisfied. These images give adults and children an opportunity to discuss emotions and how to recognize various clues in faces, a skill important for social-emotional learning. Vivid colors, adorable animals, details such as alphabet blocks that stack or are turned to spell words, and kid-appealing décor will have kids wanting to come back again and again.

A book that’s sure to become a favorite at bedtime or to enhance classroom or homeschooling curriculum, The Animals Would Not Sleep! will spark mathematical and scientific thinking and recognition in all young learners. The book offers an irresistible invitation to experiment and interact with math and science and is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Charlesbridge, 2020 | ISBN 978-1623541286 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1623541972 (Paperback) 

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website.

To learn more about Marta Álvarez Miguéns, her books, and her art, visit her website.

About Storytelling Math

Storytelling Math offers books that celebrate children using math in their daily lives as they play, build, collaborate, compromise, and discover the world around them. Each story features characters of color who are empowered to solve problems, enjoy activities, and help out using their knowledge of and experimenting with math. Free downloadable hands-on activity kits are available for each book on the Charlesbridge website. Sharing these joyful stories with your littlest ones and older kids will make them eager to explore, use, and learn more about math every day. You can learn more about Storytelling Math on the Charlesbridge website

Storytelling Math: Math, Diversity, and the Power of Story was developed with Marlene Kliman at TERC—a nonprofit dedicated to STEM education—under a grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Enjoy this The Animals Would Not Sleep! trailer with Author Sara Levine!

National Book Month Activity

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The Animals Would Not Sleep! Activity Kit

 

You can have fun sorting and exploring math with your class or family with the Activity Kit for The Animals Would Not Sleep on the Charlesbridge website. Download it here!

The Animals Would Not Sleep Activity Kit

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You can find The Animals Would Not Sleep! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 27 – Rachel Carson Day and Interview with Shana Keller

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday commemorates the birthday, on May 27, 1907, of Rachel Carson, the famous ecologist who launched the modern environmental movement with her 1962 book Silent Spring, which documented the dangers of pesticides to the environment. Silent Spring and Carson’s continued advocacy for the environment ultimately resulted in the banning of the pesticide DDT. To honor the day, learn more about the life and legacy of this influential woman whose work continues to impact our world. To learn more about Rachel Carson, visit rachelcarson.org.

I received a copy of Fly, Firefly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Fly, Firefly!

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

As the wind curled through the forest on a breezy night, a little firefly was blown out to sea. “WHOOSH! Now he was farther than he meant to be.” Floating on the current, “he saw the sparkles that flashed and glowed.” He dove in search of the twinkling lights, but deep water was not the place for him.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A woman and her niece, strolling along the beach, saw him sinking. The woman scooped him up and gently placed him in her niece’s hand. “‘Little firefly,’ Marjie said. / ‘It’s not flies that you see! / That’s bioluminescence swirling / and twirling through the great sea!’” Marjie carried her treasure up the beach to the edge of the woods, where hundreds of glittering friends and family were waiting to welcome him back, and she set him free.

Following the story, Shana Keller includes a discussion about Rachel Carson—scientist and author of Silent Spring and other books whose experience inspired this story­­—and a description of fireflies and bioluminescence.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Shana Keller’s glowing and lyrical story about one misdirected firefly that sparks an act of compassion and discovery will inspire children to learn more about both fireflies and the bioluminescent sea creatures that attracted him. The fact that the story is based on an actual event in the life of Rachel Carson will also appeal to readers, who may enjoy sharing one of their favorite marvels of summer with this influential environmentalist and author. Told in the first person, the story directly invites children to observe nature around them and lend a hand in protecting it.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are as beautiful as a summer sunset. Under the pink and lavender sky, dots of light flit among the bushes and low-standing trees. Children first meet the firefly at the center of the story as he’s tumbling head over tail in the wind toward the rippling ocean. As the firefly mistakenly dives into the waves, kids will empathize with his plight and be cheered when Marjie and her aunt rescue him. Kaulitzki’s gorgeous underwater images highlight the diversity of marine creatures found close to shore as well as those that glitter with bioluminescence. The brilliant glow of the firefly on the dusky pages glimmers like a precious jewel and serves as a beacon of the hope and promise of nature.

A unique book for kids who love nature and to inspire studies of bioluminescence, Fly, Firefly! would be a shining addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110335

Discover more about Shana Keller and her books as well as extensive teacher and homeschool resources and readalouds of her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art and find free coloring pages to download in her shop, visit her website.

Meet Shana Keller

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Shana Keller grew up a middle child in Middle America wondering exactly how clouds stayed in the air. She’s traveled all over the country and some parts of Europe with her family and moved too many times to count. She’s settled in Pittsburgh for now, a city built just for kids and one that she finds secretly inspiring. One of her favorite quotes is from Benjamin Banneker. “Every day is an adventure in learning.” That said, she graduated from the University of Miami, Florida, with a degree in Communications, from UCLA’s screenwriting program, and took a course in songwriting from Berklee College of Music. Her goal is to never stop learning.

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

I’m excited to talk with Shana today about her books, her inspirations, and her extensive travels. My writing partner Jakki’s sons Steve and Jack also loved Fly, Firefly! and had some questions for Shana.

Steve asked: We like to capture fireflies. Did you capture fireflies as a kid?

I did! My brother and sister and I would compete to see if we could get one of them to land on us.

Jack wondered: Did you watch real fireflies to write your story?

I was so lucky and grateful to live close to where Rachel Carson lived in Pennsylvania while I wrote this story, and to have a pond in our yard. We had frogs, fish, birds, and a good number of fireflies. I watched them every night in the summer when the weather was warm. There was so much wildlife in our backyard! We had chipmunks, groundhogs, wild turkeys, voles, and woodpeckers.

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Our back yard in Pittsburgh. On the bottom right is the pond. Our cat loved to sleep on the picnic table up the small hill. Can you see it behind the little tree? Back there is where the groundhog moseyed around.

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One of the koi fish in our pond surrounded (and protected) by lily pads.

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A groundhog just past the picnic table in our (former) backyard.

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A picture of our frog in the same pond as the koi. Lots of critters lived in it and used it for water.

We don’t live in Pittsburgh anymore and I really miss that yard. Sadly, I haven’t seen any fireflies in my new neighborhood in North Carolina.

Jack and Steve said: We’ve brought frogs back to a pond. Have you ever rescued an animal?

Yes! In the traditional sense, our last dog Abby, was a pound puppy. (Though she has passed, I included a photo.) She always stayed up with me while I wrote, no matter how late it was. I still miss her, so it was the neatest surprise for me to see a beagle in the illustrations for Ticktock Banneker’s Clock. Abby was part beagle.

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Abby running in the snow. She always looked like a deer or rabbit the way she bounded and jumped!

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Jazzy standing outside on our deck.

Today, one of our cats is also a rescue. Her name is Jasmine, but we call her Jazzy. And yes, in the literal sense I have rescued a handful of animals! My most memorable one was when I was about ten or eleven years old and I rescued a squirrel from my aunt’s swimming pool.

The little squirrel had tried to jump from one tall tree to the next and missed. He fell into their round pool. The water was too low, and the ledge was too high for him to climb out. I didn’t want him to drown, so I looked around the yard and grabbed a tree branch to see if he would climb onto it. He didn’t. Then, I ran into the shed and grabbed the biggest (which was also the heaviest) shovel I could find. The squirrel swam away from me even faster than before! I chased after him wielding the long shovel and tried not to rip the lining of the pool. Round and round we went until he finally slowed down long enough, I was able to scoop him out.

I’ve also stopped to scoot turtles along if I see them in the middle of the street. This one (photos are of the same turtle) was the littlest and also brightest green turtle I have ever seen in nature.  

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A little turtle crossing the street.

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A picture of the same little green turtle after I moved him. It looked like he was headed toward a pond. I helped him cross the street so he could get there.

Hi, Shana! What fantastic stories about your love of nature and your pets! Thanks so much for sharing all of these beautiful pictures with us. I can see that nature has really been a life-long inspiration. What sparked your idea to write this particular story?

A few years ago, I read a letter Rachel Carson wrote to her friend Dorothy Freeman in a book called Always, Rachel. In her letter, Rachel and her niece, Marjorie (nicknamed Marjie), came across a firefly while at her summer home in Southport, Maine. Around midnight, Rachel and Marjie headed down to the shore to secure Marjie’s son’s raft.

On the shore, they turned their flashlights off and saw a sea filled with “diamonds and emeralds.” The sparkling was bioluminescence, a (likely) form of marine plankton called Dinoflagellates. Rachel joked with her niece how one gem “took to the air!” Of course, it was a firefly! Well, further in the letter, Rachel tells her friend that she had already thought of a children’s story based on her experience. That sentence is what sparked the idea! 

What kind of research did you do in writing Fly, Firefly! and the back matter about bioluminescence that follows the story? What was the most surprising thing you learned about fireflies?

With this story, I headed to the library first to learn as much about the area Rachel was located in (Maine), and the insects and bioluminescence there. Once I sorted through all of my facts, I reached out to an entomologist here in North Carolina, the director of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and a marine biologist who studied at the very same Marine Biology Lab Rachel did.

I also read Rachel’s books to get a sense of her voice and style. It filters through in her letters, but her books definitely have a poetic aura about them.

The most inspiring thing I learned was the importance and prominence bugs have in our world. We take them for granted. We call many of them pests. But the truth is, they are an important part of our ecological system. As I discovered with fireflies, when you have them, it is a good indication that your ecosystem is in great health.

What inspired you to write Fly, Firefly! in verse?

While I was researching, I discovered Rachel Carson had a love of poetry. Though this is not pertaining (that I know of) to the children’s story she discusses; in another letter written to her, she was quoted by her friend Dorothy (regarding Rachel’s poetic aims), as having said, “I just want it to be simple and clean and strong and sharp as a sword—for it has work to do!”

I did my best to honor her vision in that way, so I kept it lyrical, simple, and clean!

In your bio, you describe how you’ve traveled and lived all over the country and in parts of Europe. What took you to all of these places? Can you name a favorite place in the US? In Europe? Why are those places special to you?

People always assume I was a military brat when I’m asked about the places I’ve lived. Family and school took me/us to Oklahoma (my birth state), Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. Adventure and jobs took me/us to Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Germany, & North Carolina.

My mom simply said she had wanderlust and gypsy blood. I definitely got my love of travel from her. Although now, with my kids in school we have settled down. At least until they graduate. J

My absolute favorite place in the United States is Big Bend national park. My mom and I camped there the year before I left for college. It’s right on the border of Texas and Mexico in a NO-FLY zone which means zero light pollution. Seeing the vast Milky Way at night is something I will carry with me forever. I wish every kid could see the sky that I saw.

My favorite place in Europe was in Berlin. It was the bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church left as it was after the war and converted into a museum. When I first saw this monument of destruction but also of hope, it impacted me in a strong way. My photo from over ten years ago is on the left and does not do it justice. The photo on the right is what it originally looked like. It is definitely worth a Google search to see more pictures of it and compare the before and after.

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My photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Notice the top tower is broken.

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An online photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. See how big it was before the bombing?

You’ve also recently released Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story from Sleeping Bear Press that relates how Douglass, born into slavery, taught himself to read and write despite overwhelming challenges. Your powerful telling of this story is written in first person. Why was writing Douglass’s story in first person important to you?

I was first introduced to Douglass’s autobiographies in college. I thought this was way too long of a wait to learn about someone who was the most photographed person in 19th century America and considered one of the greatest orators in our nation.

Frederick struggled for years in a hostile environment while he learned to read and write. To honor his accomplishment, one he was clearly proud of, I wanted to present this story in the same format he had and give children direct access to his own words.

 

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Can you describe a little about your process in writing Bread for Words?

I read Douglass’s autobiographies of course, but I also studied his speeches. I was able to take a trip to Baltimore and meet with Urban Ranger and docent, Bradley Alston thanks to the folks at Baltimore National Heritage Area. His insight and knowledge not just of Frederick Douglass but of the Baltimore Douglass grew up in was incredible. Touring the Frederick Douglass–Isaac Myers Maritime Park and museum (a place I highly recommend) with Bradley Alston rounded out my research. I’ve included a few photos from that trip!

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A recreation of Frederick Douglass arriving in Baltimore. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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A recreation of the letters Frederick Douglass saw carved into the wood. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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This is me learning what it was like to caulk a ship, a job Douglass had. They took long rope, dipped it into tar and used the hammer and tool to wedge it in for a watertight seal. (Photo taken by Bradley at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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What Baltimore Harbor looks like today.

Did you always want to write for children? How did you get started?

I didn’t expect to, not at first. I always thought I would write screenplays. I got started when my oldest daughter came home with a small paragraph from school about a man named Benjamin Banneker. It was during Black History Month, and I was amazed that I had never heard of this scientist and astronomer. Curious, I began to research him. When I discovered he built a strike clock using only a pocket watch and a pocketknife, that was the story I shared with my daughter, and that’s when the idea to put it in picture book format took place. I haven’t stopped writing picture books since.

You’re really enthusiastic about connecting with readers. What’s your favorite part of book events and meeting kids? Do you have an anecdote from any event you’d like to share?

Yes! In fact, before all the quarantines, I had such a special moment with a group of fourth graders on the day I shared Bread for Words with them. A student referred to the picture that’s on the back of the cover and said, “See how Frederick wants to be with his friend?” The kids interpreted that image as Frederick waiting for his friend to finish with his tutoring so that they could play and hunt and eat together. But also waiting, so that his friend could teach him.

It seems so obvious now that they mentioned it, but my original interpretation was one of exclusion, not simply waiting. To them, all Fred had to do (which Fred actually did) was ask his friend for help. One of the 4th grade boys even said, “I’m glad he had a friend that could help him.” I agreed and said, “It’s amazing how all the kid’s helped each other, isn’t it?!” And there was the real ‘lesson’ which another student pointed out and said, “We have to help each other if we can.” That kind of interaction is my favorite part about school and library visits!

It does make me wonder how other students will interpret this image.

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Bread for Words – back cover. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What’s up next for you?

Hopefully more picture books! I’m working on a WWI story, as well as a picture book that highlights the effects of light pollution on migratory birds. I also just finished a very cool Coast Guard story that I can’t wait to share with my editor.

Thank you, so much, Shana for this wonderful talk and your generous pictures! I wish you all the best with all of your books and am really looking forward to reading them as I’m sure kids are too!

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

Rachel Carson Day Activity

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Firefly Flight Maze

 

This little firefly wants to join her friends in the forest. Can you help her through the maze to find them in this printable maze?

Firefly Flight Maze Puzzle| Firefly Flight Mage Solution

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You can find Fly, Firefly! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review