The Birds and The Bees

When most parents think of the birds and the bees, they dread THE TALK. There’s a whole other meaning to this conversation which needs to begin with pre-school, and that is the role of pollinators in our food supply. To a curious, mind-wide-open pre-schooler or elementary-age child, the drama of the pollination process and how it relates to people, directly, is utterly fascinating.

Imagine a world without pizza. If we begin to explain to our kids how the birds and the bees help us get our favorite pizza ingredients, we get attention. Tomatoes, peppers, onions and other vegetable toppings require pollination to reproduce and grow. There would be no pizza crust without wheat to make flour for the dough. Every fruit and vegetable is part of our diet because of the vital role of pollinators. They are responsible for every third bite of food we put into our mouths. Bees are the superstar pollinators, but many others such as hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, moths, ants, flies, wasps, and beetles carry out the transfer of pollen among plant parts. This pollination enables seed production, without which we would face widespread crop extinction and a major shift in our food supply.

We are halfway through National Pollinator Week, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the small winged creatures we often take for granted, but who make our very existence possible. Loss of habitat, pesticides, and disease have been responsible for declining pollinator populations. For those of us along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there is still a good bit of animal habitat, but agricultural practices as well as building and clearing land are responsible for diminishing pollinator populations in alarming numbers. Pollinators need us to provide cover, water, native plants for food, and a place to raise young. The National Wildlife Federation website has information on how to plan our gardens or even very small spaces to attract and protect pollinators. When we create habitat for our pollinators, we help prevent loss of plants we depend upon for food, as well as help our gardens bloom.

There are many books for children which spark their desire to nurture their surroundings and understand the interdependence of plants and animals. Some of my favorites are MY GARDEN by Kevin Henkes, ON BEYOND BUGS! All About Insects by Tish Rabe, and A SEED IS SLEEPY by Dianna Hutts Aston. My book, LEMON TREES AND BUMBLEBEES, was inspired by watching the bees in our garden. When my little great-granddaughter, Sydney, was six months old, we spent hours of adventures following, watching, and falling asleep to the humming of bees. Now about to celebrate her fifth birthday, Sydney still loves bees and enjoys telling about all the pollinators, plant parts, and the process of pollination. It’s so exciting to plant the best seeds early in a fertile mind!

National Library Week – 2015

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Dr. Seuss

 

I’m skidding in on the last day of National Library Week this year, but it’s not really the end of the celebration. Around our house, every week is library week. We live in a bit of a remote area if judged by city dwellers, but after 15 years among towering oaks and more than a few wild animals, we have our own library branch! We existed until quite recently (and throughout the fallout from the direct hit of Hurricane Katrina) with a sparsely stocked grocery store, but the one lack of amenity we lamented most was a neighborhood library.

Now don’t think for a minute that we don’t also celebrate technology or that we shun it in favor of the printed book. We own an iPad, a NookColor, and a Kindle, but we love our always growing library of books and the ability to access many more through our library. We can have the convenience of driving three minutes to pick up any book that they have or can order from their network of library branches. I missed the easy access to research and entertainment that had been mine before we moved from a bustling city to a bucolic countryside.

Now I’m thrilled to have even more reason to call attention to National Library Week. We have a little great-granddaughter who loves our outings to the library. Ours has a Mark Twain theme in the children’s room, so she always asks to see the jumping frog of Caliveras County, the mural where Huck Finn adventured on his raft, and sit inside the dock-side hut where we can read books she chooses from the low shelves. We have watched her progression from toddling through the door on her first library visit, to asking to go often, to bringing home her books to “read” by herself.

The library is one of the very best ways to prepare your child for the world. It was one of my best early experiences where I realized the magic of animals and people in their times and places. It made me want to go home and write my own stories. It’s free, fabulous, and fun for a lifetime!

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My Unexpected Ghostwriter

When I’m asked to give a nutshell description of my latest book-in-progress, I say that it’s Thoreau for toddlers. It’s widely known that Henry David Thoreau knew how to convey the exuberance of a fresh morning. He didn’t have to leave the close environs of Walden Pond to examine and learn from every living thing, whether animal or plant, right in his own “back  yard.” In his words, “the only medicine I need is a draught of morning air.”

I have always gotten stopped in my tracks while on the way to the mailbox, my gardening chores, errands, or whatever may have led me outdoors. Something always scuttles, buzzes, flies, or sings my attention away from what may have been intended. Even if I just want to amble or think, I know the new and unexpected will be just outside my door. Now I have some surprising help writing my world.

A two-year-old great-granddaughter has become a vital part of our lives, so the unexpected in nature brings even greater thrills, squeals, and baby questions. Her eyes see the wonder she constantly investigates, and my latest manuscript is influenced greatly by her “ghostwriting” observations. I don’t have to wonder what to present to a young child or how important it might be to choose certain subject matter. Sydney gives me great material.

The other day, we were holding hands as usual while walking down a length of flowerbed. A very long, fat earth worm wriggled over the dirt searching for a “door” down under. Sydney stopped short and squeezed my hand hard. “What’s that? What’s he doing?” Our walks and play times are packed with “Look, doves” or “Look, mockingbird.” Before she was two, she could identify several bird species after one or two sightings, much to my surprise. This gave me insight about what could be meaningful in my new book for one- to five-year-olds. Their curiosity and sponge-like ability to learn makes it so much fun to include new vocabulary and knowledge about their world. Rather than keep all the words short and simple, I think it’s a good idea to stretch children a bit by giving them some challenges in pronunciation. They can understand a great deal by context and illustration. This gives the adult reader a great way to talk about the story and bond with the child – the special time that encourages a love of reading. Our little Sydney enjoys looking through her books alone, too, after we have read them together and she is familiar with the contents and pictures.

My current book is underway, with every page influenced by Sydney’s discoveries in the natural world. She has registered her reactions as clearly as if she had written them, so she is a reliable “ghostwriter,” representing her toddler generation. These babies of the 21st century are different in many ways from those of just a few decades ago, but their zeal for everything in sight begins as soon as they open their eyes each day. Just as with all the babies ever born, they want to know; all we have to do is tell the stories. Sydney and I will be working on HELLO MORNING, and I’ll post news of our progress on the new book in the months to come.

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Story Seeds

Stories grow from the seeds of words. When I think of reading, though, I think in terms of more than words on pages. When I think of the broader meaning of “reading,” my writing is enhanced by these abstract ways of applying the idea of reading.

To me, reading is reading nature, reading people, reading everything in my environment, using all my senses. This began in early childhood, when my parents and grandparents filled our homes with what they read in the outside world, with all the experiences we shared. They brought nature, art and music indoors so that we were constantly surrounded and enveloped in a lush, sensorial climate. When they read to me or I read to myself, I could better envision the descriptions through experience, and I felt the need to translate and share my feelings in my own ways. This was how my stories were born. Now I’m always writing as I walk, see, hear, smell, feel – in other words, as I read my world.

Below are some photos of bird nests and other bits of nature collected from around our garden, walks, and travel, and brought inside to decorate tabletops and mantel. Many pieces of our furniture and art have nature themes. Framed family photos of generations, including the house in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and handwritten letters, give me stories and voices that told them to me. My hope is that you will read the world, and that your children will read it with you so that they will write it for their children. Story seeds are everywhere.

Wren’s nest on mantel

Wren’s nest on mantel

Paper and tape became part of this nest.

Paper and tape became part of this nest.

 

 

Unhatched Bluebird eggs collected from several nests

Unhatched Bluebird eggs collected from several nests

Chimney Swift nest

Chimney Swift nest

Bluebird nest

Bluebird nest

Nest in fork of our fiddle leaf fig tree

Nest in fork of our fiddle leaf fig tree

Nest under glass dome on side table

Nest under glass dome on side table

Wax myrtle berries

Wax myrtle berries

Bird of Paradise painting

Bird of Paradise painting

Shells collected at Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

Shells collected at Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

Antique mirror frame with leaf detail
Antique mirror frame with leaf detail

Partial wall of seven framed generations

Partial wall of seven framed generations

 

1929 letter written in German from great-grandmother to my mother

1929 letter written in German from great-grandmother to my mother

House in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and a group photo of his parents and siblings
House in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and a group photo of his parents and siblings

Even my sox have bluebirds

Even my sox have bluebirds

 

 

 

This Writing Climate

What I’m about to say may sound odd to the 21st century community of writers, as well as many who know me. It’s not so much that I’ve changed my mind about digital technology as it is that I’m seeing a desperate need to strike a balance in how we introduce reading to children.

Regarding ebooks/apps versus print books, my whole emphasis is not an either/or attitude toward literacy education. Increasingly, there are blogs, news articles, and marketing efforts directed by traditional publishers vs. ebook and app developers – all producing exclusive arguments for either print books or newer products on digital readers, depending upon which publishing method they represent. Even the staunch traditional print book publishers are phasing away from print and competing in the digital marketplace. They haven’t completely abandoned print, but their attempt to compete with newer ways to publish and profit further narrows the field for children’s print books.

The key word “profit” is a prime motivation. Digital publishing affords many publishing opportunities that seem almost magical to educators and children. Many innovative processes have evolved rapidly, and there’s no doubt that fireworks get attention and sales. Some of the products are excellent, but too many apps are games disguised as education. If a child has only to tap an element to get a sound or cartoon-like movement, he is simply being entertained. Education should definitely be enjoyable, but there are basic elements which need to be grasped and interspersed with the fun.

There is a difference between interactive ebooks and apps. With interactive ebooks, a child might touch a word which becomes highlighted, and then immediately moves the reader to the glossary. Another touch in the glossary takes the child back to the word in the story. Fun facts and extra information, recipes, puzzles, and other things related to the story allow the child to read and interact without as much “razzle-dazzle.” Ebooks definitely can have spectacular illlustrations. They can be an enhancement to classic ways of helping children love to read.

Apps allow much more movement and sound, with many exciting eye-catching special effects. This thrills, but can also lead to a kind of tech device addiction. So many factors are part of reading, not the least of which is the creation of a story world inside the head. The activation of the thinking process, and the interaction of communicating with others are necessary learning for life. What is better than listening to the re-telling of a story, hearing it read, face to face. There is a time for the fun and opportunities of digital devices, and a time for quiet reading and developing individual ideas. It’s possible to share exciting learning and stories from both digital readers and print books, but a constant use of one without the other is missing out on half the benefits. Each has its own contributions to childhood literacy and the development of future possibilities. It’s all about balance!

Just to punctuate my thoughts, I’m including some completely candid photos of young children as they discover the wonderful world of books. They cannot yet read, yet are fascinated with books and digital devices. It’s up to us to make sure they get a taste of variety in their learning, with ways to light a fire of curiosity which will propel them into their best future. This is Children’s Book Week, which seems the perfect time to think about reading with our children.

The Taming of Tech

Technology is alternately exhilarating, frightening, time-consuming, or maddening (or any combination), with long tentacles exploring the unknown depths of human possibilities. So many words about tech are written and discussed, with differing opinions and experiences. Since my website is not only for children, parents, grandparents, and teachers, but also a dialogue with and for other children’s writers, I’m finally ready to share my thoughts about how technology is impacting the writing life – mine and everyone else’s.

My last 18 months have been consumed with care for my daughter during her battle with cancer. My blog and website have sat idle from my end, but have received wonderful emails from readers who are helping promote and sell my first nonfiction ebook. In this way, technology of the internet and tablet readers has made possible the connections I would not otherwise have enjoyed. However, increasingly I receive requests for information about how to navigate every aspect of digital publishing, including research and writing, time management, negotiating distribution and royalties, public appearances, and all-important marketing. There is no substitute for dogged research, trial and error, and communication with other writers. Writers today must be adept at the language and requirements of tech, handy with software and hardware, and trouble-shooting glitches. When information gathered from years of experience among other writers yields the same conclusions and recommendations, you’ll know you are on the right track. These contacts can be made at conferences, in writing critique groups, and through email.

Like every innovation, technology has afforded new ways for the greedy and unscrupulous to scam those seeking knowledge. So much of the “how-to” information on the internet is false in suggesting and selling the quick and easy way to publication. The internet is rife with individuals and companies springing up every day, offering direction for pay. Many are simply capitalizing on the rapidly spinning changes in print and digital publishing. For those just beginning to follow the dream of writing, the choices overwhelm rather than inspire. The production of an excellent children’s book is neither quick nor easy. It isn’t a path to fast fame and big bucks, except in instances where celebrities with name recognition can sell anything associated with them. It IS immensely gratifying to hear the words of children and adults who love what they read, learn from it, are inspired to create on their own – and yes, those royalty checks are the icing when they arrive.

Begin at the beginning. That is, plan time to read and write as much as possible. Most of us have family demands and spontaneous unavoidable interruptions which cause us to adjust our writing time. Having a specified time doesn’t work for me. Being organized, with flexibility worked into the schedule, allows me to make the best use of my writing time. Sometimes it’s 4:30 a.m. before the phone starts ringing, and sometimes it’s 11:00 p.m. when things have settled somewhat and I can’t sleep until the ideas which have been tucked into a brain folder can finally be recorded on paper or computer. Sometimes if I’m afraid I’ll lose the “perfect” words, I have to stop the car or pull off the gardening gloves or stick the chicken back into the fridge so I can WRITE. Then I’m calm until I can get back to a quiet place to work on the story. Another thing that works for me is to utilize the technology of my food processor, microwave and convection ovens, freezers, and others to make food for a week so that I’ll have uninterrupted writing time. Tech encompasses so much more than use of the internet, smartphones, and tablets. These devices are wonders our grandparents didn’t even dream, but we can use them in ways which enhance our main purposes, rather than using them in mindless, rote ways which devour our time.

Tech is a temptress, but we can tame her to suit our true needs. My enforced time away from writing during the past months has been an awakening rather than a detriment. Now, I’ve decided to write blogposts only when I feel inspired. I no longer feel an urgency to blog because of self-imposed deadlines. I don’t want my writing to read like a diary or stream-of-consciousness thoughts. It isn’t necessary to write simply to see my words in print. It seems better to give thought for a while before writing and sharing my perspective. The best writing comes from inner peace, however we achieve it.

Like many who are now becoming more vocal, I don’t see the value in leaping among the social networks for hours each day. It will become apparent if any efforts work for you. Don’t allow the frenzy of 21st century technology races to derail your focus. We can’t corral all the wild horses; study and learn to choose the ones with the most promise, and ride them to your own definition of success.

 

 

A Low-Tech Childhood Easter

My brother, David, and I grew up when Easter preparations were more homemade than commercial. Iced Lebkuchen bunnies and chicks (honey and almond cookies) were nestled in baskets ringed with crepe paper ruffles. When we outgrew the riot of Easter egg hunts in her garden, one of our grandmothers raided her sewing box and our Grandfather’s ties for silk to cut, wrap, and dye eggs. Our other grandmother always dyed eggs wrapped in yellow and purple onion peels. They taught us with endless patience, and finally we couldn’t wait to unwrap our surprise masterpieces and compete for the “best egg.” There were days of cooking and baking, and choosing outfits for Easter Sunday church. But there was one thrill at the top of the list.

We could receive a brightly colored chick or duckling for Easter, before the age of political correctness, environmental fanaticism, and all the other recent catch-phrases behind which many masquerade. Looking as though they had just popped forth, sprightly and downy, from dyed eggs of rich purple, fuchsia, turquoise, and green, the chicks regarded us warily through shiny black dots and let out faint cheep-cheeps. As soon as the important choices of which color to claim and a name for each were out of the way, the new babies were gingerly carried home to a waiting pen in the back yard. We watched their daily progress while attending to the necessary aspects of feeding, watering, and changing paper. Caring for them taught us that pets are dependent, but have vastly different needs, one of which was that these little guys needed to be handled a little rather than a lot.

The soft round fluff matured into larger oval bodies with white feathers which would run on spindly three-toed stilts to meet our call and perch on our laps and shoulders. We understood that these pets lacked the devotion of a dog, but did not require the long-term commitment from us. Each animal was to be treated responsibly, was not a disposable toy, and had needs which sometimes required attention before our own. These values used to be called duty, pride of ownership, and delayed gratification – qualities that come in handy growing up and which seem natural when acquired early. We didn’t have to waste a lot of adult time feeling inadequate since we had practiced capability early in life.

Fortunately for our parents, our maternal grandmother raised chickens (as did many other women who began this practice during the Great Depression to help feed their families). We were taught that, just as with wild birds nursed in cardboard boxes from time to time, these little Easter chicks and ducks would eventually need to be freed with others of their kind so that they could lay eggs, have more chicks, and participate in life’s cycles. It was always a greatly anticipated event to pack a picnic and take the ducks to a farm pond or a park where we watched them claim their freedom. There we carried them flapping outstretched wings, melding into a blur of white, gliding effortlessly with others until, at last, squinting, we lost track of just which ones were the new arrivals.

The same was true for our chicks. We would run to our grandmother’s chicken coop and exercise yard for after-school visits until the last color left their fully feathered bodies, making recognition imperceptible. Now they were grown birds with duties of their own, and we were impatient for summer pursuits in our own “secret garden.” We played in sunny patches at the fringes of a huge oak planted from an acorn the day our mother was born. There were searches for that elusive four-leaf clover, pill-bug counting contests, and butterfly catch and release chases.  At last, we’d collapse into shady lawns to search out cloud animals drifting through blue above, our fingers aromatic and sticky with homemade fruit juice popsicles and grass. This was our Walden.

At day’s end, scrubbed and tired under cool white sheets, listening to crickets sawing sounds outside our open window, we were barely aware of a far-off train whistle as our heavy lids gave up their struggle to the peaceful dreams of a tender childhood.

Chicken Little and Big Isaac

Sometimes Mother Nature overtakes the reading road as it did last week. Hurricane Isaac arrived on the seventh anniversary of Katrina. We no longer say “Hurricane Katrina” because she is famous enough to be known by one name. Once again, we had to decide whether to outrun a powerful weather event, or hunker down. “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” I couldn’t shake the refrain from that old nursery story, Chicken Little. We heard it everywhere because we, along with countless others along our Gulf Coast, had lived through the utter devastation of Katrina. For those who may not be acquainted with this tale, Chicken Little got bopped on the head with an acorn, and started a comical chain of events. Everyone he met heard his extreme warning, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”Jim and I busied ourselves with preparations while keeping an ear to announcements of coordinates, tropical development, and water temperature. We knew what was coming.

Every creature in the path of the 30-odd feet of rolling wave as Katrina made landfall has his own sensory and emotional memories of all that happened on August 29, 2005. Most of us have photos which can only begin to show the dimensions of Katrina’s effects. So many words have been put to paper that I have chosen to wait, to think deeply about it from the perspective of time elapsed. Now that we have felt the fear again, I can talk of it in relation to the way it is part of all nature rather than an isolated incident. A hurricane isn’t one malevolent tree in a dark fantasy forest; it’s one force of an entirety which drives the forest and all other systems around our planet.

The world’s cycles were here before us. They continue to prove that they are more powerful than all our advances. They catch us unaware, though we have the intelligence to expect them, put them into perspective. All the aspects of our lives that we treasure bow before the forces of nature. A hurricane is simply one way to know that we are not in control. Love and loss, joy and grief; these wax and wane throughout our years. The moments between the raindrops are triumphs, sparkling in their fleeting intensity. They remain in our subconscious alongside the terror. We store them, but sometimes forget to call them up when we are faced with another unknown. A hurricane is a time to remember, to listen, to see and feel more than what is obvious.

Certain Indians are known to have burned all their belongings every few years so that they would not become dependent upon material possessions. Hurricanes sometimes rid us of ours, because none of us would have the courage of the Indians. Of course, Indians didn’t have computers and TV’s and iPhones and, especially, all the photos which hold the faces we love and our best days. We assign such value to our possessions that we are forever in their service, often failing to live fully in each day. I know this, but am guilty.

I try to be thankful for the things I cannot control. They usually are things which make me realize how human I am, and how I would tremble to have complete control. I can see that there would be no right decision for all, and the weight of responsibility would seem unbearable. The best we can do is protect those within our reach, those we love, and those who need understanding. This example of forbearance is present in all of nature, so all we have to do is pay attention. When the howling, assaulting wind finally quieted on Isaac’s third day, and the rain became a silent silver sheet across the landscape, I looked up to see a lone seabird winging across the gray ceiling outside. It probably followed water farther inland than usual because of Isaac’s tumult. The bird was headed south toward the beach, so one more mile would offer it a more familiar place. Things would begin to look more as they had the week before.

And so the sky is not really falling, all you Chicken Littles. All signs of approaching autumn are murmuring that the annual cycle is undisturbed. Migrating hummingbirds zoomed through the heaviest downpours of the hurricane to circle the end of the back porch where their feeder, full of nectar, had hung. As soon as I was able to re-hang it from a climbing rose branch, their staccato chirps were in my ears. The Duranta, now more tree than shrub, dripping lavender flower clusters and golden berries, is host to a few dozen bumblebee drones – male bees banished from the colony once their job of fertilizing the young future queens is done. Now they fly and feed until they soon die. The female worker bees have died, and those fed, fattened and chosen to become new queens have searched under leaves and quiet sheltered places to hibernate until next spring. We hope that hurricane season is having its last hurrah of 2012. The moon is full, the silent drama is performed; the sky is not falling. It is full of stars.

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Snapshots two days post-Katrina from our golf cart:

A video clip of Isaac’s third day should appear as soon as I can complete edits.

WIK12 Blog Tour: Meet Jodi Wheeler-Toppen!

It’s such a pleasure for me to introduce Jodi Wheeler-Toppen, the science teacher I wish everyone could have! You’ll understand when you meet her at WIK12 where she will be on the faculty sharing her love of teaching and writing. Go HERE to make plans to attend.

Don’t forget to ask Jodi about rockets, explosions, gushers, shooters and blobs – or you could just go to her website, www.onceuponascience book.com and read about her books. Our conversation is a preview of the excitement Jodi generates.

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen

Jodi, when did you first become fascinated with all things “science?” What area(s) of science were most compelling for you?

You know, it’s funny. I didn’t even like science until high school biology. I think I hadn’t had very good teachers. I only read fiction, and I went off to college planning on being an English major. Then I took a great zoology course my freshman year, and eventually even got fascinated with chemistry. I ended up a high school biology teacher, myself.

What sort of childhood did you have? Did you live in a city, the country, or what was your environment like?

I grew up in Savannah, Georgia, which is a great place to enjoy nature. My high school biology teacher passed on her love of the salt marshes, and all the wonderful life inside. I still long for that pungent, salty smell as I drive around Atlanta.

Besides your biology teacher, were there other adults, a family member, or particular books that had an influence upon you?

My high school biology teacher, Jacqueline Baker, was wonderful, but I also had a college professor, Larry Davenport, who helped me see how to join my interest in science with writing. He’s a botany professor at Samford University, and he also writes a nature column in the Alabama Heritage Magazine. He shared some of his columns in class, and they were excellent models for merging science and human interest. He’s also has a book out now, and I was touched that he sent me a copy when it came out.

You have said that you began writing nonfiction in college. Did you write in other genres earlier?

Yes, I started proclaiming a desire to be an author in elementary school. Of course, then I always assumed it would be fiction. I have done some fiction, and I had a fiction story published in Spider magazine a few years ago, but at some point I decided I wanted to focus on one thing and do it well. Science writing seemed like the logical place to settle. I don’t rule out doing more fiction later in life, but I’m passionate about this, and enjoy it.

I agree with you that kids need the “WOW!” factor when learning about science. How do you teach science teachers to help kids become excited about the natural world without realizing they are “learning?”

The biggest thing I push is to let kids have the hands-on experience first. Traditionally, teachers lecture or assign reading first, and then have the kids do a lab to “see what they were talking about.” It makes such a difference for kids to explore the actual stuff first, and then they are ready to learn all the vocabulary and principles afterwards.

Please talk a bit about your work with special needs students.

As a teacher, I just ended up as the go-to science teacher for placing a lot of the special needs students in my school. Later, working for the University of Georgia, they needed someone to teach a course for teachers titled, “Teaching Science to Students with Special Needs.” I volunteered to supplement my experience with more research, and took over the class. It was very fulfilling.

Do you feel that many students are generally unprepared in reading comprehension, or do you think that science literature presents special reading challenges?

Science reading is my area of research; I often do staff development with teachers on this topic, so I could go on and on about the reasons students struggle to read science. One huge problem I encounter when reading with students is that they don’t have the background knowledge that the text assumes. So the writer starts explaining something, but starts the explanation way ahead of what the reader knows, and the reader never has a chance to understand. Now that I’m in writing, I know a lot of times editors cut that crucial background information in the interest of word counts or keeping the writing energized. But it’s hard on struggling students.

Please share some of your favorite authors/titles.

I read a lot of preschool books with my children right now, and I recently came across a wonderful piece of non-fiction for preschoolers, MY GOOSE BETSY, by Trudy Braun. It managed to entice even my fiction-only daughter. I’m terribly jealous of Vicki Cobb’s work. I especially love her book, I FALL DOWN. I also love an old middle-grade novel that’s out of print now, WHERE THE RIVER BEGINS, by Patricia M. St. John. But, of course, my favorites change with whatever I’m reading.

If you could invite people from the scientific world, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why would they interest you?

Right now, I think it would have to be Michael Welland, the author of SAND: THE NEVER ENDING STORY. He’s a geologist who has poured his lifetime of studying sand into this densely-packed, beautifully written book. It’s truly a work of love. I mean, there just can’t be an enormous audience for a book on sand, so he wasn’t after fame and fortune! But he has mixed fascinating history tales and complex scientific discussions with some fabulous, literary-quality writing. It must have taken years to research and write, and I’d love to meet the man behind the passion.

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Thanks for your thoughts and words, Jodi! “Passion” is a great final word in our conversation, because that is what you convey in your pursuit of science, and that is what you are inspiring in your students who will need to understand the world they will inherit.

Meet more of the wik12 faculty by following their blog tour!

Aug. 15                Sharon Pegram at Writers and Wannabes (http://www.writersandwannabes.com/)

Aug. 16                Sarah Campbell at Alison Hertz’s blog, On My Mind (http://www.AlisonHertz.blogspot.com/)

Aug. 17                F.T. Bradley at Laura Golden’s blog (http://authorlauragolden.com/blog/)

Aug. 20               Chuck Galey at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog (http://dulemba.blogspot.com/)

Aug. 21                Jo Kittinger at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales (http://tenacioustelleroftales.blogspot.com)

Aug. 22               Irene Latham at Robyn Hood Black’s blog, Read, Write, Howl (http://www.robynhoodblack.com/blog.htm)

Aug. 23               Vicky Alvear Shecter at S.R. Johannes’ blog (http://www.srjohannes.com/)

Aug. 24               Doraine Bennett at Cathy Hall’s blog (http://cathychall.wordpress.com/)

Aug. 27               Virginia Butler at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales (http://tenacioustelleroftales.blogspot.com)

Aug. 28               Jodi Wheeler-Toppen at Diane Sherrouse’s blog, The Reading Road (www.thereadingroad.com)

Aug. 29               Ellen Ruffin at Sarah Frances Hardy’s blog, Picture This (www.sfhardy.blogspot.com)

Aug. 30               Donna Jo Napoli at Writers and Wannabes (http://www.writersandwannabes.com/)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Reading Road at Lynn Meadows Discovery Center

Saturday, August 25, was one of those birthday party giddiness days for about 60 children (two separate parties) at the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, Mississippi’s only children’s museum, in Gulfport. I had been invited to read my book and talk about all things bumblebee to a range of children from toddlers to upper elementary age. Oh, boy!

My morning began with a cup of tea, honey, lemon, and lots of encouragement from Jim as I headed toward the herb garden with my specimen jar. First, I had split a ripe, very juicy peach and wedged it into the bottom of the jar. Next, I clipped some of the bees’ favored herb blossoms, inserted them into floral tubes of water, and arranged them attractively (I thought) for a bee. Finally, I approached a likely candidate so busy sticking his head into basil blooms that he never saw me coming. He quickly found himself in a new place between my perforated lid and homemade jar garden. Frantic buzzing is not a strong enough term to describe his efforts. I felt that he would soon find the peach treat and settle into exclusive peach probing. Instead, he (yes, it was a male bee because like all males, he had no pollen pockets) continued to fly continuously within his glass world. He had great stores of energy, because he was aloft for a couple of hours until we arrived at the museum. As if on cue, he descended to the bottom of the jar in a state of torpor, until he could recover strength. Fearing that the children would think I had killed one of the very insects I was asking them to conserve, I placed the jar inside my large supply bag and hoped for the best.

Jim and I arrived toting cameras and armfuls, including the iPad loaded with my nonfiction interactive ebook, LEMON TREES AND BUMBLEBEES, The Magic of Pollination. To sweeten the presentation beyond the waiting birthday cakes, we took bee and seed specimens, large color illustrations, crossword puzzle page handouts, and coloring page handouts of some of the first black and white illustrations for the book. We also showed parents how to construct a place for a bee colony that might prove irresistible to a queen bee next spring. They liked the idea of burying a clay pot with a drainage hole almost completely underground, inverted over some dry brush, and protected from rain with a tile or saucer balanced on rocks so the queen could enter (a photo is below the post). As I settled myself on a bench in front of the colorful murals, I heard the encouraging buzzing of my guest-in-a-jar. He awakened just in time to delight dozens of children, as I had hoped.

During the next hour or so, a number of children heard the story, asked about bees, shared their love of honey and lemonade, and gave us a day as special as the one we tried to give them. They moved in, out, and about; several enjoyed hearing the story from the vantage point of rocking horses or while sitting in a gingerbread cottage shared with stuffed animals.

When we were home again, I took our bee jar out to the same patch of basil, uncapped the lid, and watched the little guy slurp a bit more peach juice before he buzzed off above the rooftop.

I’ll give you a feel for the day in some photos we had to be quick to get. Photos including some children have been purposely cropped to conceal their identity for safety. With all the action, there wasn’t time to get parental permission to show their faces, but we have the smiling photos to enjoy in our album. You will get a good idea of the fun.

Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, Gulfport, MS

 

The Reading Road Banner

Reading LEMON TREES AND BUMBLEBEES on iPad

Listening from a rocking horse

Listening with a buddy

Flying Bees

Owls in trees

Happy Walls

Enchanted Forest

Under the Sea

Specimen jar with male bumblebee

A Peach of His Own

How to Construct a Manmade Bumblebee Colony

Perfect Ending for a Happy Day