GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.
See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020.
Glaciers are big. Well, that’s a bit of an understatement. A glacier can be a million tons of massively moving ice. Glaciers are so immense that when I set out to write a book for young readers about them, I was daunted by their sheer size, their massive scope. How to do justice to glaciers in mere words? Where should I begin, to introduce such a remote topic—after all, most children have never laid eyes on a glacier. How to get kids to warm up to such a cold topic?
Then, as I delved deeper into the subject of glaciers, I realized that I couldn’t just write a book about all the fun and interesting facts, the incredible beauty, the amazing wildlife. I had to address the most significant issue of our time. Glaciers aren’t just big in size, they’re also of huge significance since they are the proverbial canary in the coal mine—their unprecedented rates of melting are warning us that our planet is in crisis. I couldn’t write about glaciers without writing about climate change.
If glaciers had daunted me, the scope of climate change all but crushed me. The more I researched, the more the appalling statistics discouraged me. How do you begin to explain—to children?!—an issue so immense, so cataclysmic?
Mice On Glaciers
I decided to start with the mice.
My ambition to write about glaciers came from an experience on a delightful Icelandic vacation—a guided hike on a glacier. It was the first time I had encountered an actual glacier, and it was…well, awesome is an overused word. But it did indeed fill me with a sense of awe to ride on the back of this immense mass of ice. The glacier seemed like a living thing, a big frozen animal creeping with infinite slowness across the land.
In that huge expanse of white and blue ice, I noticed that here and there were tiny scraps of green—little balls about the size of ping pong balls. When I took off my mitten and touched one, I discovered that it was about the last thing I expected to find on a barren, icy glacier: a soft, green, living clump of moss. It sat in my hand, sun-warmed and prickly.
These adorably fuzzy little balls of green fluff are as close as anything in the plant kingdom comes to being a mammal. They’re a type of moss, but they’re known as glacier mice–no kidding, that’s really what scientists call them.
So how did a little ball of moss get onto a glacier? The glacier mouse started out as a tiny moss spore, drifting over the ice. It avoided fissures and crevasses and somehow managed to plunk itself down on a pebble, where it sprouted little root-like hold-fasts and tiny leaves, small as mouse’s ears. Eventually it grew into a fuzzy, mouse-sized ball of moss. The dark leaves absorbed sun, melting the ice under them and providing water for the mouse to drink, so to speak. But the round little mouse is only attached to its central pebble, and a gust of wind can roll it across the snow. Whole herds of glacier mice roam across the glacier, wandering wherever the wind blows them. The glacier mice live for decades, thriving in this most barren of all habitats.
These tiny, resilient mice hitching a ride on the giant’s back were, for me, a way to begin to write about glaciers. By starting with these little scraps of life, I was able to take the first step in introducing readers to the complex web of life in and around glaciers. The tiny green mice were a way to link young readers to the immensity of the glacier. Eventually I worked my way up to tackling a description of the dire problems of climate crisis.
In the classroom, whenever I try to get kids interested in science, I start with nature. With a bug, a worm, an acorn—something they can hold in their hand, a real specimen that they can see and smell and touch. That initial contact with the natural world is often what awakens a child’s interest in the broader and more daunting scientific concepts. From exclaiming over the sliminess of a worm, they can move to an understanding of decomposition. From the spicy scent of a pine cone, they can move to learning about life cycles of plants.
Climate change is infinitely complex, frustratingly abstract, and almost too vast to imagine. The glacier mice were small enough to grasp, both in the hand and in the mind. They became the point of entry, a tiny first step into an immense subject.
Anita Sanchez is especially fascinated by plants and animals that no one loves. As an educator for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, she developed curricula for science programs serving thousands of students. Decades of teaching outdoor classes have given her firsthand experience in introducing students to the wonders of nature. She is the award-winning author of many books on environmental science for children and adults.
Her middle-grade nonfiction book Meltdown! Why Glaciers are Disappearing will be published by Workman Press in spring 2021.
Her most recent book is Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, Slime and Nature’s Other Decomposers (HMH for Kids, 2019)
For more, see Anitasanchez.com