Category

Mims Kids

Category

Book clubs are a simple way to develops student literacy. Middle school students (grades 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades) understand that their success depends on their level of literacy, or their ability to read and write fluently. The discussion breaks down on the best way to achieve literacy.

As I’ve discussed before, giving students CHOICE is the most important way to encourage students to read. A simple way to do that is a book club. Book clubs are ways to share the reading experience with a small group within a controlled environment. Here’s the thing: book clubs also need CHOICE. For more on the importance of choice, read The Book Whisperer.

Middle School Students want to be independent readers and thinkers.

Students become far more excited about reading when they have choices in the book clubs. They want to choose the members of their group and the books they’ll read. But giving them ownership in other ways also helps. Often students want to decide on discussion questions. They want leadership roles in guiding the discussions. For sure they want to avoid record keeping (logs, reports, and group projects). In other words, middle school students want to be independent readers and thinkers.

Teachers have to think about their required teaching standards when setting up book clubs during class times. However, giving students ownership of book clubs and their independent reading is a choice toward literacy and encouraging students to become life-long readers.

Often teachers choose to present a curated list of titles but assure students that they can add to the list if wanted. The curated list can represent a wide range of genres, diverse topics and characters, and reading levels.

Finding Books for Book Clubs

  • Home/friends – sometimes students can borrow a book from a friend or perhaps they actually own a copy.
  • School & public library – often students can find copies of the chosen book at the school or public library.
  • eBooks – Often, ebooks are cheaper than the paperback books. Check the prices and decide if ebooks is a cheaper option.
  • Build a classroom library – over several years, teachers often build school libraries with collections of book sets. This is great as long as the sets don’t become the default book choices and students are no longer able to decide what to read.
  • Purchase books – schools need to allow budgets for students to choose the books they want to read. This may take working with administration to change policies. But it’s the strongest choice possible to build literacy. Without books that kids love, literacy is impossible to develop. Often teachers and school librarians work with local or regional educational distributors to find the best pricing.

Mims House Supports Book Clubs—And Literacy

Review Copies. Free paperback review copies to teachers or other book club facilitators of book clubs. Email suefoster@mimshouse.com with teacher’s name, grade level and number of students in book clubs.

Discounted ebooks. We’ll discount ebooks for titles your students choose for book clubs. This is the most cost-effective choice. We guarantee that you’ll be able to read our ebooks on the device of your choice. Email suefoster@mimshouse.com with teacher’s name, grade level and number of students in book clubs.

Paperback books. We’ll be glad to quote you book club pricing on our paperback books. We want students to read! So, we’ll give you the best pricing we can. Email suefoster@mimshouse.com with teacher’s name, grade level and number of students in book clubs.

Download our free discussion guides. These work as a starting point for discussion, but we hope that students will move beyond these questions.

Middle school book club - Consider ebooks as the most economical way to provide a set of books. | MimsHouse.com
eBooks are often the most economical way to provide book sets for a middle school book club.

DOWNLOAD DISCUSSION GUIDE FOR:

The Heartland Tales - Great choice for middle school book clubs. | MimsHouse.com
Two novels and one short story in the Heartland world.

RESOURCES for Book Clubs

Middle School Book Clubs - The #1 Tip! | MimsHouse.com
Middle School Book Clubs - The #1 Tips | MimsHouse.com

What did scientists write in their notebooks? It’s easy to make wild assumptions, but why do that? Readily available online are scans of scientists who worked for the Smithsonian Institution over the last 150 years in the Field Book Project.

My STEAM Notebook: Helping Kids Write About Their Observations | MimsHouse.com

Our book, MY STEAM NOTEBOOK: 150 Years of Primary Source Documents from American Scientists, uses the field books to help kids learn to write about their own observations in a science notebook.

It begins with Alexander Wetmore, an ornithologist or bird scientist, who was also the Secretary (the person in charge) of the Smithsonian Institute from 1945-1952. He left many notebooks, photos, and specimen with the Smithsonian.

Wetmore started writing science notebooks when he was only eight years old! While on a Florida vacation, he saw a pelican and wrote about it.

From Alexander Wetmore's 8-year old journal. He's writing about seeing a pelican.
“There are a great many pelicans around here. A pelican is a great big bird that eats fish…” From the Smithsonian Institution archives.

At the age of 15, his first published article, “My Experience with a Red-headed Woodpecker” appeared in the 1900 Bird Lore magazine.

During his travels to Panama and other places, Wetmore brought back 26,058 bird and mammal skins. He write a book, The Birds of the Republic of Panama, writing bout 189 species and sub-species of birds that were new to science. Over his lifetime, over 56 new genera, species, and subspecies of birds (both recent and fossils) were named in his honor.

Wetmore kept lists of birds he saw in a single month, or in a year. Listing is a simple writing exercise for students working in their science notebooks. They can easily write lists about their observations.

Download the Wetmore section of My STEAM NOTEBOOK

We could continue telling you about Wetmore, but instead, we’re making available a special excerpt from My STEAM Notebook. The Wetmore excerpt includes the how to use this notebook explanation, Alexander Wetmore information, notebook pages for students to work, suggestions for related STEAM activities, a reproduction of his first published article and more. Add your email below and we’ll immediately send you the pdf.

Alexander Wetmore, ornithologist, and his scientific notebooks.
Page1 of Wetmore section of My Steam Notebook.
Alexander Wetmore as featured in My STEAM Notebook.
Page 2 of Wetmore section of My Steam Notebook


A solar eclipse on May 29, 1919 changed science forever.

The story starts earlier on November 15, 1915 when German scientist Albert Einstein presented a paper about his general theory of relativity. The theories were hard for most people to understand. However, a British astronomer, Stanley Eddington, was fascinated by the theory and worked to help explain it to his colleagues.

7EN-S1-C0010943 (929331) German-born physicist Albert Einstei n (1879-1955), at left, was famous for his theories of relativity. British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-194 4), at right, pioneered the study of internal stellar structure. In 1919 Eddington led an expedition to observe stars near the sun during a solar eclipse. The results were hailed a s confirmation of Einstein’s 1915 theory of General Relativity, which predicted that light passing close to a large mass (like the Sun) bends twice as far as predicted by Newton’s theory of gravity. Photographed at the University of Cambridge Observatory, UK, in 1930.

The 1919 solar eclipse provided the perfect opportunity to prove Einstein’s theory. The sun’s gravity, Einstein said, would pull light rays making them bend or curve. A solar eclipse was the perfect time to measure this shift. Scientists needed to photograph some bright stars before the eclipse and then during the eclipse and compare the two. If the stars appeared to move, the light was bending.

This is a difficult concept for kids! But the NextGen Science Standards ask kindergarten kids to understand the concepts of PUSH and PULL. In space, gravity is the pull, while acceleration is the push. By using the simple concepts of PUSH and PULL, kids begin the process of conceptualizing Einstein’s theory. It will likely be a life-time journey, but we can start it very simply in elementary school.

ECLIPSE: How the 1919 Solar Eclipse Proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity

ECLIPSE: How the 1919 Solar Eclipse Proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity | book cover | MimsHouse.com. Available October, 2019.

Available in October, 2019 is our story ECLIPSE: How the 1919 Solar Eclipse Proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. It tells the story of Eddington’s trip to a small African island of Principe, also known as the Chocolate Islands because cacao nuts were grown there. In 1919, it was a 47 day boat trip. Once there, Eddington and his associate Edwin Cottingham set up the telescopes and waited for May 25, 1919.

Just in case the weather was bad, astronomers also sent a team to Brazil to photograph the solar eclipse. Both locations were remote and difficult to reach with the huge telescopes required. Heat and humidity plagued both teams, causing photographic materials to warp, which threw off the focus.

Interior page of ECLIPSE by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Peter Willis.

This is a dramatic story! On Principe, it rained that morning, only clearing up right as the eclipse started. The scientists only had 302 seconds of totality, the time when the sun was totally blocked. They exposed photographic plates with a metronome ticking off the seconds.

Measuring a Solar Eclipse

The analysis of data took months because they had to account for temperature, humidity, position of the telescope on Earth and more. Finally, on November 6, 1919, astronomers announced the results: light does bend around the sun. The photographs proved Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

An interactive element is built into the story. If you flip the top-right corner, the images will show a solar eclipse happening.

The story is illustrated by Peter Willis (see Peter’s interview on the Children’s Book Council website), a British artist. It joins the other books in the Moments in Science series:

If you’d like a review copy when they become available, leave your email below.

Summer reading is the perfect time to read a stretch book! Recently, we wrote about helping students choose the right book for them. The idea of choosing a “stretch book” caught the attention of teachers and we wanted to explore it further.

A stretch book is one that takes the reader out of their comfort zone in some way. It may be a different genre than normal, or have fewer illustrations and more text. Maybe it’s that uncomfortable zone when a reader moves from picture books to short chapter books or moves from short chapter books to longer chapter books. In some way, the book is a challenge. The question is how we can set up the situation in a way that students are most likely to succeed? How do we handle “failures”?

Why Students Make Safe Choices

Let’s review why students are likely to make safe choices. When a student chooses a book, it says something about him/her. It adds or subtracts to the overall public face that a student projects. Peer pressure means students must be able to answer the question, “What are you reading?” While justifying a certain book to themselves can be hard, justifying it to friends is even worse. Teasing, bullying, belittling – the negative results of a choice can be overwhelming. It you expect students to take chances in their reading, it’s wise to set up the decision in ways that will make it successful.

Model the Stretch Choices

That means we need to model the behavior or making stretch choices. Are you making stretch choices? It’s important for students to hear you talking about your choices and why you decide to read a certain book.

It’s OK to NOT Finish a Book

And yes – it’s ok to start a book and not finish it. As an adult, I do this all the time. It’s fine to tell a student, “Try this book. If you don’t like it, just bring it back! You don’t have to finish it.”

When they bring it back, don’t make a big deal of it. If the circumstances are right, you might ask why they didn’t finish. But the info is more for you to help them choose books later and to get feedback about the book that might help you with other students. It’s NOT to make them feel bad about their choice.

Booktalks, Book Displays – Label STRETCH Books

When you set up displays or do booktalks, include a Stretch Book. Give the category of stretch books a unique name that resonates for some reason in your community. For example, I’m from Arkansas, and the University of Arkansas mascot is the Razorback pig. Maybe the stretch books are the “Woo Pig Sooie” books that get a cheer when they are chosen. Yes! Take the time to celebrate the choice by breaking into a cheer! When you introduce the books, tell students that you think this one is a bit harder and only the brave kids will choose it. NOT the best readers – you don’t want to set up that kind of competition. Make it one that courageous or brave kids will choose.

What if we teach kids how to anticipate and deal with that question? Help students to find ways to make their choices look admirable:

“I’m taking a chance by reading something a bit different.”
“I’m reading outside my normal genre, just to stretch a bit.”
“It’s a new author for me. I’m not sure I’ll like it, but I’m the kind of person who likes to take risks sometimes.”

Growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut. Sadly someone once told me that you couldn’t be an astronaut if you had ever broken an arm because it was more likely to break again, and that could be tragic if you were in space. At ten-years-old, I broke my right arm, and my childhood dream died.

Fortunately, in sixth grade, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Lord of the Rings (LOTR) by J.R.R. Tolkein (my generation’s equivalent of Harry Potter). Science fiction, with its emphasis on space-travel, and fantasy are still my favorite fiction genres—which is a testament to the power of early passions. I couldn’t be an astronaut, but I go to space within the pages of a book.

LOTR took me on a slightly different path. After reading that epic fantasy, I realized that I wanted to be on the flip side of stories; I wanted to write stories that people read. Still, for years after, I was just a reader and not a writer. When students ask me what they should do to become a writer, I answer, “Be a reader.” Good writers need to pour language into their minds: characters, plots, language, voices, dialogue and more. Without a rich background of literature—whether oral or written—it’s hard to write well. Read stories. Tell and listen to stories. Experience the world. Live a while. Then pour in more language.

THE ALIENS, INC. SERIES

After years of reading voraciously, the words came easily when I did start writing. In my early chapter book about aliens, The Aliens, Inc. Series, the stories revolve around an alien family from planet Bix, who crash land on Earth. They adopt a common English name, the Smiths, and name their son, Kell. To make a living, Kell masterminds an event planning business with help from Bree, his best friend. Extra drama is added by Mrs. Lynx, the school principal, who is president of the SAC, the Society of Alien Chasers. She’s convinced that someone in third grade is an alien, and won’t stop till she catches them.

  • The Aliens, Inc. Box Set

    Ages 7-10 $5.99

Kell, the Alien, Book 1, starts with a rich story that includes enough subplots to provide a variety of ways to give continuity across a series. Each book begins with an art class that celebrates young artists with elements such as the Accidental Art Bulletin Board. The Parent’s Night Concert starts an emphasis on folk or patriotic songs. Kell points out to Bree that insects are the most common kind of animal on Earth; his fear of bugs leads to hilarious situations throughout the series. And of course, they plan an amazing Alien Party for Bree’s birthday.

In Kell and the Horse Apple Parade, Book 2, the Smiths plan a Friends of Police parade. Sasquatch, Paul Bunyan and other giants march through Kell and the Giants, the third book. The latest in the series, Kell and the Detectives poses mysteries for Kell and the gang, which ends with a detective party. Worse, Aliens, Inc. will only get paid if they can pull off a surprise party. But the biggest surprise is that Mom has laid an egg, and Kell expects a baby brother. Will his brother be a Bixster or an Earthling? Or both?

Kell and the Giants, Book 3 is about secrets, giants and alien-chasing dogs. If you’re an alien on Earth, you have one giant secret to keep. After a while, even friends want to tell your secret. Kell and Bree plan a birthday party with giants—Big Foot, Cyclops, Goliath and the Jolly Green Giant—while they struggle with keeping their own giant secret. But they have an even bigger problem: Principal Lynx and the Society of Alien Chasers is back with a dog trained to sniff out an alien in a crowd. When Mom is stung by a bee, Kell must find a doctor who can keep a giant secret, too. Will Aliens, Inc. be able to pull off the Giant Party and keep everyone happy?

Not included in the box set is Kell and the Detectives, Book 4. Kell makes a startling discovery: he has zigzag fingerprints. Worse, Mrs. Lynx and the Society of Alien Chasers know about the fingerprints, and they are on the hunt. But the stakes are higher than ever because Kell’s mom has just laid a beautiful green egg. With Mrs. Lynx on the prowl, can Kell and Bree keep the egg safe?

SCIENCE, CONTEMPORARY NOVELS, AND HOW-TO-WRITE

Science fiction and fantasy books aren’t my only passion. Thinking about my overall career writing children’s books, at one point, I decided to imitate Arnold Schwarzenegger. To sustain a career in a creative area, it’s helpful to have several options going at once.  For a time, Schwarzenegger alternated and action-adventure story like “Terminator” with a comedy like “Kindergarten Cop.”

What genres could I alternate? That question has stretched my creativity into three areas: science/nature, contemporary novels, and stories about how-to-write. Two middle grade novels put families in the spotlight in contemporary fiction. Saucy and Bubba retells the Hansel and Gretel story in a family with an alcoholic stepmother. In Longing for Normal, a boy unites an immigrant community and rebuilds his family–using a simple sourdough bread recipe.

Three times, the National Science Teacher’s Association has named my science/nature picture books Outstanding Science Trade Books. See here, and here, and here. More fun for me, environmental books need a world-wide perspective, so in my stories I’ve traveled to far-flung places. If you travel to Honolulu, and then fly another five hours to the middle of the ocean – to Midway Island—you may catch a glimpse of the oldest known wild bird in the world, continuously banded since December 10, 1956. Read how Wisdom survived the Japanese tsunami in Wisdom, the Midway Albatross. In an urban area of Brazil, within sight of skyscrapers, there lives a healthy population of pumas, or cougars. One mother cougar decided to hunt easy prey, chickens. When she was caught in a trap and accidentally died, she left an orphaned cub, which I wrote about in Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma.

As a writing teacher, I care about the writer’s stories, and my passion is to help bring their stories to life. In 2004, I walked off the Seattle ferry onto Whidbey Island to teach a Novel Revision Retreat, an intensive class that I created in 1999. One writer went home, revised her story over the summer, sent it to an editor and sold it in ten days flat. That story, Hattie Big Sky, brought Kirby Larson a 2007 Newbery Honor. She later wrote a foreword for my workbook on revising novels, Novel Metamorphosis.

My experience as a writing teacher has also its way into my fiction picture books as my third alternate to science fiction and fantasy. My earlier book, The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman, was an Irma Simonton Black Honor Book. My passion for picture books, fiction or nonfiction, is to tell a good story. Period. However, I recognize the need to bring books into the classroom in a useful way, so I add layers to my stories.

In two recent stories, I combined my favorite writing lessons with the Common Core language arts requirements to write The Read and Write series, about writing elementary essays. It starts with these two books: I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay and I Want a Cat: My Opinion Essay. The story is always first: Cousins Dennis and Mellie try to decide what kind of pet is best for their respective families. They consider ten criteria, write an essay, and receive the dog or cat of their dreams. The usefulness comes next: The story includes a mentor-text for writing opinion essay, and includes all the elements expected of second and third grade writers. Science teachers will also find it useful for discussing dog and cat breeds.

Sometimes, I regret the loss of my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut; sometimes, I wish I’d been one of the lucky ones to see our blue planet from space. Instead, my writing career has been an exploration of my own inner world, of our fragile environment, of important stories told by other writers, and of the writing process. I’ve been lucky enough to see and explore the world through the lens of the written word. It’s fun to be on the flip side of reading.

The Wayfinder was my first published novel, 2000 Greenwillow/Harpercollins. It’s being reissued by Mims House on June 11, 2019, followed by the brand-new companion book, The Falconer, on July 9. Both are set in a mythical country called the Heartland. So, the series is THE HEARTLAND TALES. These stories talk about the power of an individual to change history.

THE HEARTLAND TALES - The Wayfinder, The Falconer, and a short story, Sage and King.

READ A FREE HEARTLAND TALES SHORT STORY: CLICK HERE

I remember where I was when I heard the news that someone wanted to publish this manuscript. I was with my oldest daughter, Sara, at a local mall. I had to use a pay phone to call the editor back, Standing there in the hallway, near the mall office, the pay phone was noisy.

Why a Wayfinder? A Pleasant Mountain Hike

It started when we got lost in the mountains of New Mexico at 10,000 feet elevation.
The day began as a simple hike in the mountains for about eight members of my family, about 4-5 adults and 4-5 kids. We planned to walk to a snow-fed lake, eat a picnic lunch and hike over the mountains to another parking lot

It was a beautiful day, clear with puffy clouds. The walk to the lake was easy, even if it climbed. The lake was cold, the picnic lunch great. When we left the lake, we expected 30 minutes to an hour walk to the parking lot on the opposite side of the mountain

At that elevation, on June 17, there was till snow under the trees. As we walked, bits of snow fell into my boots making my socks wet. We came upon beautiful alpine meadows with wildflowers in full bloom. We scared a porcupine.

One valley had a narrow ditch running through it that was full of ice-cold water. You could easily jump over it. Yet when we thrust a stick in it to discover how deep it was, we couldn’t touch the bottom. It must have been over ten feet deep. I kept thinking of how dangerous that would be at night. You’d be walking along and suddenly boom, you’d be over your head in water.

Lost! How to FIND Our Way Home?

We came to a post in the ground. At its feet lay several trail signs. Apparently, the snow had knocked the signs off and they hadn’t been replaced. We tried positioning the signs on the post, but we had no idea which way they should point.

We were lost.

Not only that, but the sky had darkened, clouds blocking out the sun. We couldn’t tell our direction from the sun at all.

At this point, two things would’ve helped. A compass or a map.

My brother, the smartest man I know, had a map. It was in his car, back at the original parking lot.
I had a compass, but it was back home in a drawer.

We were truly lost.

From Bad to Worse: Could Things Get Worse?

Oh, yes.

It started to hail. Not small hailstones, but marble sized bits of ice.

My husband pulled out his one rain poncho and stretched it out for the eight of us to huddle beneath.
The hail stopped, and we hurried along the trail that we “thought” was right.

At one point, my husband ran (at 10,000 feet elevation) back to the signpost, in hopes of better clues, and ran back to us. He learned nothing new and we still didn’t know if we were on the right trail.

It hailed on us again.

We came to another valley where the ground was spongy from snow melt. I bounced up and down, looking at a line of posts. It was hopeful that there were signs of people—someone had set those posts in a straight line. We continued on and finally came to the edge of the mountain where we could look out and see the path below us.

Within 15-20 minutes we were safe at our car.

Wayfinding

The mountain hike and getting lost made we wonder about how we find our way around. How do we navigate? It turns out that this varies widely.

For example, people who live on an island only need two directions: toward the sea or away from the sea. Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest only had two directions: upriver or downriver.

If navigating or finding our way is negotiable, then it’s up for grabs as a fantastical element. I created a special skill of FINDING. Those with the skill could Find anything: a lost ring, the best fruit in a market, a buried treasure, or someone in a deep fog.

One thing I liked about Wayfinding is that it gave the characters the power to make things happen. In a fog, they could still navigate. In confusing time, they could navigate the muddle. It allowed for strong characters who could make a difference in their worlds.

Relaunch and a New Heartland Fantasy

The Wayfinder cover. A Heartland Tale.
The first Heartland tale

I’m thrilled that THE WAYFINDER is relaunching next month. But I’m also thrilled that in July, a new Heartland story will launch. Creating the Heartland, the landscape, political climate, traditions, and so on is part of the fun of writing fantasy. But it takes a long time!

That’s why there are so many trilogies and series in fantastical worlds. After spending time creating a special world, it’s hard to abandon it for other stories.

A new Heartland tale!

THE FALCONER skips a generation and focuses on Winchal Eldras’s granddaugher, Brittney Eldras. She has trained a gyrfalcon, the largest and most noble of the hawks, and comes striding out of the north just in time to save the Heartland from the vicious Zendi invaders from the south.

Both books are available for preorder, just click on the covers. Or CLICK HERE to get a free short story set in the Heartland here.

Where should you run an experiment?

Science experiments in the laboratory may not be the best answers.

BIG IDEA: When you do a science experiment, it’s important to record the setting of the experiment. Why? Because it may affect the results.

When scientist Henry Astley was studying at Brown University in Rhode Island, he read that in the laboratory, bullfrogs could jump 4 feet 3 inches (1.3 meters).

One day, Henry’s supervisor, Tom Roberts, read in the Guinness Book of World Records that Rosie the Ribeter had jumped 21 feet 5 and 3/4 inches in her1986 winning triple-jump at the Jumping Frog Jubilee®. That was an average of over seven feet per jump. Tom and Henry decided to attend the 2013 Jumping Frog Jubilee® in Angels Camp, CA to gather more information.

They set video cameras up and filmed 3124 frogs jumping, recording over 20 hours of video.

The Jumping Frog Jubilee® provided information on far more frogs than they had ever had in the laboratory. This meant their sample size was larger.

They measured two types of frog jumps
First were frogs jumped by the professional frog jockeys. They brought their own frogs that had been chosen because they were good jumpers. The frog jockeys knew how to lunge at the frog to make it jump farther. These frogs regularly jumped six to seven feet per jump.

Second were frogs jumped by amateurs, or people who just rented a frog. They knew very little about the frogs or how to encourage the frogs to jump farther. Their frogs only averaged 3.6 feet per jump, similar to those in the lab.

Henry, Tom, and the other scientists concluded that the biggest difference was the frog jockey. The jockeys learned over the years how to encourage the frogs to jump farther. They believe that lunging at the frog makes the frog think a large predator is after them. The jockey’s lunge triggers a flight response, the frogs trying to escape the predator. In scientific language, they discovered a variable that they hadn’t known existed.

BIG IDEA: Scientific experiments are affected by many variables. For example, if you change the setting, the results might be different. Sometimes, scientists don’t know all the important variables.

Rosie the Ribeter: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County | Mims House. Where should your run an experiment?
Rosie the Ribeter: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

They also realized that studying or observing animals in a laboratory may be misleading. The laboratory isn’t always the best place for an animal to show the behavior that’s being studied. For bullfrogs, the Jumping Frog Jubilee® was the best place to show how far they jumped. Or, maybe they jump even farther in the wild when threatened by an actual predator. No one knows.

Sources
Astley, H. C., Abbott, E. M., Azizi, E., Marsh, R. L., and Roberts, T. J. (2013) Chasing maximal performance: A cautionary tale from the celebrated jumping frogs of Calaveras County. Journal of Experimental Biology, 216, 3947-3953. doi:10.1242/jeb.090357

Last week, the Houston Bar Association (HBA) participated in the 2019 Law Day by sending lawyers into the schools to read our book, THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY. They read to 101 schools in 22 districts and private schools across Harris County, Texas

This year’s theme was “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.” The book is a real historical event that was reported as news, even though the newspapermen knew it wasn’t true. It’s also a nonpolitical story, so it allows a discussion of fake news and free press without having to discuss politics. The HBA sent about 100 lawyers into the schools to read, and afterwards donated to the book to the school library. Below are some photos of the lawyers reading to kids. We only wish we could’ve been at each one to hear the kids’ discussions! (All images were first seen on the HBA’s Twitter account.)

Houston Lawyers Reading to Elementary Schools

Here are some of the photos from Law Day!

Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Otto Meyers III, Attorney at Law, reading at Alexander Elementary School in Alief ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Earl Touchstone, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, reading at Kate Bell Elementary School in Houston ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Jordan Warshauer, Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing, P.C., reading at E. A. “Squatty” Lyons Elementary School in Houston ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Catina Haynes, Harris County District Attorney’s Office, reading at Pleasantville Elementary School in Houston ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Joanne Ericksen, The Ericksen Law Firm, reading at Chancellor Elementary School in Alief ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Label inside each book: Donated By the Houston Bar Association
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Amanda Duncan, Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas, LLP, reading at Patterson Elementary School in Houston ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
The Honorable Joe Villarreal reading at Tijerina Elementary School in Houston ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
The Honorable William Henderson, Children’s Assessment Center, reading at Oaks Elementary School in Humble ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
The Honorable Harvey Brown, Lanier Law Firm, reading at Frostwood Elementary School in Spring Branch ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Karan Ciotti, Ciotti Law, PC, reading at Jessup Elementary School in Pasadena ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Marguerite Gabriel, Yokogawa Corporation of America, reading at Hairgrove Elementary School in Cy-Fair ISD
Bernadette Haby, Harris County District Attorney’s Office, reading at Liestman Elementary School in Alief ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Karen Lukin reading at Meador Elementary School in Pasadena ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Karen Lukin reading at Meador Elementary School in Pasadena ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Otto Meyers III, Attorney at Law, reading at M. Robinson Elementary in Cy-Fair ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Helene Dang, Foster LLP, reading at Cornerstone Elementary School in Ft. Bend ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Warren Harris, Bracewell LLP, President of the Houston Bar Association, reading at Purple Sage Elementary School in Galena Park ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Anna DeMaggio, The Bale Law Firm, PLLC, reading at Meadows Elementary School in Ft. Bend ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Johnetta Lang, Aldine ISD, reading at Kujawa Elementary School in Aldine ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Johnie Maraist, Okin & Adams LLP, reading at De Chaumes Elementary in Houston ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Rehana Vohra, Harris County District Attorney’s Office, reading at EC Mason Elementary School in Alvin ISD
Houston Bar Association reads THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY for 2019 Law Day, celebrating free speech, free press, and a free society.
Lawrence L. Bellatti, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, reading to The Village School, a Nord Anglia Education private school

For more photos and information, see the Houston Bar Association Law Day.

MAY 3 is International Space Day. In its honor, we present ideas for creating a spider habitat for the International Space Station.

THE PROJECT: Create a Spider Habitat for the International Space Station

In October, 2011, YouTube Space Lab announced a competition for students ages 14-18. They asked
students to submit a video explaining a science experiment they’d like to see sent to the International Space Station (ISS). The competition was sponsored by YouTube and Lenovo, and conducted in collaboration with Space Adventures, NASA, European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

One of the two projects chosen was proposed by 18-year-old Amr Mohamed of Alexandria, Egypt. (Learn more about AMR in this VIDEO.) Amr wondered what would happen when a spider jumped in a micro-gravity environment. The jumping spider experiment was transformed into a successful space flight investigation by Stefanie Countryman and others at BioServe Space Technologies, a center at the University of Colorado that specializes in creating space flight habitats that enable living organisms to exist as naturally as possible in an unnatural environment.

Amr named the spiders Cleopatra and Nefertiti, in honor of queens of ancient Egypt. Cleopatra, a zebra spider (Salticus scenicus), rarely came out when the video camera was filming, so Nefertiti was considered the main spider in the experiment. I’ve written about the amazing flight of Nefertiti in the following book.

Nefertiti the Spidernaut | MimsHouse.com
2017 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book

BIG IDEA: Sometimes, the back-up experiments give the most important results.

SPIDER HABITAT: Did it Work in Space?

BioServe Space Technologies has sent sixteen spiders into space since 1973. The original spider habitat was a 6” wide x 5” high x 3” deep box was made of light-weight plastic and anodized aluminum. The interior was lined with a narrow frame of light-weight balsa wood. This basic design met the mass and volume requirements for an ISS experiment. They tried to improve that design for Nefertiti.

One big engineering and biological challenge was how to feed a spider in space. Fruit flies (Drosophila) are an easy source of food because they can live in microgravity; however, they only live 40-50 days. Spiders can live for long periods with only water, but engineers still looked for ways to provide food for the full 100 days of Nefertiti’s flight.

Stefanie Countryman showing author Darcy Pattison the protype habitat for spiders on the International Space Station. | MimsHouse.com
Author Darcy Pattison talking wiht Stephanie Countryman of Bioserve Space Technologies.

For Nefertiti’s habitat, scientists and engineers decided to try to raise several generations of fruit flies. Engineers created a mini-hab with chambers that attached to the back of the habitat. Chamber 1 contained water for the spider. Chamber 2 contained the original fly larvae. When the habitat reached the ISS, the astronaut opened Chamber 2 to release the newly hatched fruit flies. She also opened Chamber 3, which held more fruit fly food flakes. The engineers hoped the fruit flies would mate and lay eggs in Chamber 3. That would produce a second generation of fruit flies. After a couple of weeks, astronauts were instructed to open Chamber 4. They hoped the fruit flies would again lay eggs, creating a third generation of flies. If all three generations worked, they’d have enough food to feed the spider for 60-70 days of flight, but not the full 100 days of flight.

Insects on the International Space Station must live in this 5" x 6" x 3" habitat. Everything sent to the ISS must be efficient in the use of space and weight. | DarcyPattison.com
Insects on the International Space Station must live in this 5″ x 6″ x 3″ habitat. Everything sent to the ISS must be efficient in the use of space and weight. | MimsHouse.com

The habitat was considered a success. In the end, Nefertiti had food for about 60 days. Her natural ability to survive on just water kept her alive the last 40 days.The next time BioServe sends spiders into space, they’ll improve the design of the habitat. Often scientists and engineers can’t solve all the problems at one time. Instead, they make a small change and test it. If that works, they make another small change and test that. Eventually these small changes add up to big changes and a successful design. This type of “incremental changes” in an experiment is part of the engineering and technology that went into the design of the spider habitat for the ISS project.

For more, see this video: Bioserve Space Techonology explains the habitats available for use on the ISS.

Read and Watch More:
Sunita Williams, the International Space Station astronaut in charge of the spider experiment, blogged daily about her duties. On August 10, 2012, she wrote about the spider experiment.

Watch this video of Nefertiti hunting in space (0:00 – 0:15) and then re-adapting to Earth’s gravity (0:15 – 0:57):

DOWNLOAD SPIDER HABITAT DISCUSSION QUESTIONS!

Guest post by Carla Killough McClafferty

I call my books “Biography Plus” because I write about the lives of people, but I also add science and art whenever possible. You might be surprised how often these topics go together.

Cover of Buried Lives by Carla McClafferty.
“An enlightening presentation on slavery in the late 1700s.”
Booklist Starred Review, Reviewed in The Wall Street Journal.

Even my new book Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon contains science.  The book illuminates the complex relationships between Washington and the enslaved community.  In it I highlight the lives of six, specific enslaved people who lived and worked at Mount Vernon.  I feature William Lee, Washington’s valet who was with the General throughout eight years of war; Christopher Sheels, the young man who replaced William Lee; Caroline Branham, seamstress and housemaid; Peter Hardiman, Caroline’s husband who ran Washington’s stable; Oney Judge, Martha Washington’s lady’s maid; and Hercules, the chief cook in the President’s House in Philadelphia. 

Science – Archeological Dig

The majority of the book focuses on biographies of these six individuals.  The science angle of Buried Lives comes in through the archaeological dig currently taking place at Mount Vernon. 

Flowers mark the grave sites at Mt. Vernon's slave cemetary.
Mt. Vernon’s Slave Cemetery: Bouquets mark individual grave shafts. Facing SE.

For more than one hundred years, enslaved people were buried in unmarked graves in what was called the “Slave Cemetery” on maps of Mount Vernon.  In 2014, archaeologists at Mount Vernon began a multi-year archaeological dig in this cemetery to learn more. No human remains will ever be disturbed during the archeological study of the cemetery.     

Answering 3 Historical Questions

They set out to answer three questions: 

Where are the cemetery boundaries?

How many people are buried there?

How are the burials arranged within the cemetery? 

As per the usual practice of an archeological dig, the archeologists started with a GPS survey.  The area is mapped out in a precise five feet by five feet grid pattern.  To prepare an area of the dig, strings mark off each five-foot square grid.    

Working on one grid at a time, the first step is to clear away leaves and the top layer of soil. It is backbreaking work, as shovel after shovel reveals tree roots that must be cut away.  Each shovel and trowel full of dirt is put in a bucket, and then poured onto a sifting screen that has quarter-inch holes.  Any artifacts that might be in the dirt are left on the screen while the dirt falls to the ground.  The archaeologists look over every item left on the screen.  Rocks are discarded and everything else that might have historical significance is bagged and tagged in such a way as to know exactly which bag was taken from each grid.

Mt. Vernon’s Slave Cemetery: Michael Boone excavated 738B. Facing SW.

Once all the dirt has been processed for the first layer, they go back to the grid and scrape another thin layer of soil away.  Every step is meticulously repeated.  As layer after layer of soil is scrapped off, the archaeologists frequently check and record the color of the soil.  As they dig deeper within the grid, knife-sharp edges are maintained.

When the top six to eight inches of soil has been removed, the sub soil is clear to see.  If a grave is present within the five-foot square it is very easy to see the oval shape.  The soil of the grave shaft looks like a different color from the undisturbed sub soil surrounding it.  The reason for this is that when a hole is dug out of the ground as with a grave (or to plant a tree or anything else) the soil is tossed aside.  When that dirt goes back in the hole it is mixed up with grass etc. and never looks the same as the undisturbed sub soil ever again.  If a portion of a grave is revealed within a grid, they move to the next grid and the work begins all over again until the entire grave can be seen.

The same procedures are followed one grid after the other.  Slowly, graves are revealed and their exact locations are recorded.  

Author Carla Mcclafferty participating in the archeological dig at Mt. Vernon's Slave Cemetary.
Author Carla Mcclafferty participating in the archeological dig at Mt. Vernon’s Slave Cemetery.

But archaeologists don’t spend all their time actively working at the dig site.  Most days are spent in the laboratory where the bags of material collected from the cemetery site are washed, examined, and filed.   This dig site has uncovered many Native American artifacts dating back thousands of years.  This indicates that the area was likely used as a work area where stone tools such as arrowheads were made. 

At the end of each dig season-June through October-all the graves that have been painstakingly uncovered during the season are carefully covered again.  By the end of the 2018 dig season, 80 graves have been located in Mount Vernon’s cemetery for the enslaved. 

I believe that by adding the archaeological dig chapter to Buried Lives it gives the book another level of interest.  By the time readers reach this chapter near the end, they will have a better understanding of the lives of the enslaved community at Mount Vernon. It is my hope this knowledge will make the dig to reveal the presence of so many unmarked graves even more meaningful. 

Once again, modern science allows us a better understanding of the people who have gone before us.  


Carla Killough McClafferty is an award-winning author of nonfiction books and public speaker.  She has presented programming for audiences of all ages at a variety of national and international venues.  She has appeared on CSpan 2 Book TV, Ford Book Talk Series at Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg, the American Library Association national conference, the National Science Teachers Association national conference, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the U.S. Consulate in Marseille, France.  She presents teacher professional development workshops, author visits and interactive video-conferences with schools all over the nation. 

Her books have been recognized for excellence in various ways including starred reviews, and being chosen as the Bank Street Best Books of the Year, IRA Children’s Book Award Winner, NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor Book, ALA Best Books for Young Adult List, ALA Amelia Bloomer Project List, NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children by the CBC, National Council of Social Studies/Children’s Book Council Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, Cooperative Children’s Book Council (CCBC) Choices list, Arkansas’s 2008-2009 Charlie May Simon Reading List, and more.   

 Her books include:

  • Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon
  • A Short Biography of George Washington
  • Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment
  • Tech Titans
  • The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon
  • In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry
  • Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium
  • The Head Bone’s Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky and Wonderful X-ray

On January 25, 1862, Charles Darwin received a box of orchids. It was the beginning of a long journey toward answers. One of the orchids, the Madagascar star orchid, intrigued him. Darwin knew a lot about orchids and could name most of the orchids in the box. But he had to write to his friend to find out the scientific name of this one. The orchid had an 11” long nectary, the long tube where the plant stored nectar.

Orchids. Spread from POLLEN: Darwin's 130-Year Old Prediction

Immediately, Darwin wondered how the orchid could be pollinated. He had no idea the answer would take 130 years to fully answer.

MARIE CURIE’S TIMELINE

We know that science can be a matter of hard work, hours of repeating the same experiments. As Carla McClafferty wrote in her biography, Marie Curie and Radium (p. 40), Marie Curie worked hard to separate out radium and polonium from pitchblende (p. 40 of Marie Curie and Radium, by Carla McClafferty). They discovered that there were two unknown elements. But isolating the elements out of pitchblende took four years.

Here’s a timeline of her work in isolating the element of radium out of pitchblende.

Timeline:
• Uranium rays found in February 1896.
• 1897 Married Pierre Curie and had a baby
• 1898 Decided to study radium rays for her doctoral thesis.
• July 1898 named new element polonium
• December 1898 named new element radium
• 1899 – 1902 It took four years to isolated .1 gram of radium salt; she did eventually isolate a full gram of radium from 7 tons of pitchblende. That’s like isolating 3 raisins from an adult elephant.
• March 28, 1902 Determines atomic weight of radium.
• 1903 Earns doctorate with her thesis
• 1903 Shared the Physics Nobel Prize, which was awarded tor Marie and Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel
• 1903-1911 She continued the work on radium
• 1911 Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911.

BIG IDEA: Sometimes, the back-up experiments give the most important results.

Darwin Almost Right

Darwin predicted that the Madagascar star orchid would be pollinated by a giant moth. 21 years later, in 1903, two etymologists, or insect scientists, published a new book about moths. Baron Rothschild and Karl Jordan described a new species of Madagascar hawk moth (Xanthopan morgani praedicta). It had a very long proboscis (straw-like mouth), long enough to pollinate the star orchid.

However, no one had actually observed the pollination happening.

POLLEN: Darwin’s 130 Year Prediction is the story of the star orchid and the hawk moth and how scientists eventually proved that the moth pollinated the orchid. It only took them 130 years!

POLLEN: Darwin's 130-Year Prediction | Mims House
POLLEN: Darwin’s 130-Year Prediction.
Starred Kirkus Review
Junior Library Guild selection

In other words, scientists stand on the shoulders of the giants in science who went before them. It’s important to know the history of science and to learn about the scientific experiments and studies of previous generations of scientists. Each generation builds on the work of the previous as they work to answer questions about the world around us. Read more of the story of Darwin and his moth here.

Interview with Bill Guzules (known as the Godfrogger) about teaching kids about bullfrogs.

Launching today is ROSIE THE RIBETER: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. The book chronicles the story of the female bullfrog who holds the world record for the longest triple-jump. In May, 1986, the frog jockey team of Lee Guidici, Bill Guzules, and Dennis Matasci jumped Rosie. She won with a jump of 21 feet, 5 3/4 inches. Today, we talk with Bill Guzules about the frog jump held at Sutter Elementary School, Santa Clara, CA.

Rosie the Ribeter: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County | Mims House
Releases on April 12, 2019

How did you and Lee Guidici get the idea to teach kids about bullfrogs? Why take bullfrogs into the schools?

We started teaching kids back when they did outdoor education program in the unified school district. The kids didn’t know the difference in frog and toad. We hit on a way to do that, because of the Frog Jump. They make a big deal to be sure the kids brought frogs, not toads. At first, we had to talk about the differences. Most kids brought toads instead of frogs.

The Frog Jump evolved from that early outdoor education program. Today, kids can easily list 5-6 differences between frogs and toads.

Frog Toad
Long legs, made for hopping Shorter legs, made for crawling
Smooth skin covered with mucus Rough, thick skin
Eggs in a cluster Eggs in a chain
Lives in water Lives on land
Round, bulging eyes Football shaped eyes, not bulging

We started the Frog Jump in 1966, so we’ve had 53 years of jumping frogs at Sutter Elementary School. In fact, we’ve had a big impact on the school. Originally, their mascot was a serpent, but that’s changed to a frog.

Our Frog Jump is a sanctioned preliminary jumping contest because we jump 3-400 frogs. The winner of our jump goes to the Frog Jubilee (Trademarked) straight into the final division. They skip the preliminaries. We currently have an alumni division, too, and the alumni winner also goes into the final.

What do kids like most about bullfrogs?

Kids and frogs go together. At Sutter Elementary, sometimes kindergartners are intimidated by the bullfrogs. They are BIG – as long as 14 inches, from nose to stretched out legs, or 8” nose to tail. The fifth graders help the kindergartners learn about the frogs. Each 5th grader works with 4-5 kindergarten kids. As they grow up, kids look forward to becoming the “big” kids who help out with the frog jump and teaching the younger kids about frogs.

The frog jump lives in the memory of these kids, too. When kids come back, they ask if they still do the frog jump. We’ve also started holding Frog Jump times for junior high kids later in the day, after their school lets out.

We haven’t had any kids that I know of become herpetologists. But lots have gone on to teach science. In fact, a couple former students currently teach in same district they graduated from

If you can’t see the video, click here to watch this 2016 TV interview with Bill Guzules.

What do kids like least about bullfrogs?

When you hold a bullfrog for a while, it dries out. They pee to wet themselves. This helps their skin stay moist, but it also makes them slippery and likely to escape. The frogs pee all over your hands and sometimes it gets on your clothes. That’s about the only thing kids don’t like about the frogs. We always have sanitary wipes available, and we remind them to wash hands before lunch

What’s the most surprising thing about bullfrogs for kids?

Kids are always surprised about how their attitude to the frogs develops. Over the years of frog jumps, they gain so much knowledge about frogs and learn to love them. They start out not touching frogs but end up loving them. They learn how to handle frogs without hurting them. They move from fear to confidence. It’s fun to see kids attend the Frog Jubilee in Angels Camp.

Are you getting ready for the frog jump this year?

Yes. It’s about time to take some dads out to catch frogs for the Sutter Elementary event. After that, we’ll catch frogs for the Frog Jubilee, the third weekend of May.

Interior page from Rosie the Ribeter: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County | Mims House

If a kid wins our contest, they can’t use the same frog. We always return frogs to the same waterway within a day of the frog jump. That means we have to catch more frogs for the Frog Jubilee. We always test the frogs to see if it will jump a winning distance. We’ll set aside a 16-foot-jumper for the winner from Sutter Elementary.


Bill Guzules was classroom teacher for 32 years. 5th, 6th, 4th, 4-6 gifted. He says the kids were so bright that he had to go back and review algebra for the smarter kids. He taught PE, art, speech, reading, social studies, or math. He attended San Jose State college where he started out wanting to teach high school. To help pay for school, though, he drove a bus before and after school. As a bus driver, he learned that he liked the younger kids best. Bill is currently retired and helps babysit his four grand-daughters. He’s currently a car-pool grand-dad three days a week.


GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

By Shanda McCloskey

I LOVE robots. I find the technology behind robotics fascinating, but what I find even more interesting is how we humans perceive them. In art and entertainment, robots are often depicted as characters with a meaningful purpose. They have names, and if they don’t, we give them one. We root for them (or not), love them (or hate them). We project emotional qualities on them. Machines don’t have emotions, yet we witness their selfless devotion, endless determination, and unwavering loyalty. A robot would sacrifice itself for the cause, its purpose. No hesitation. No questions asked.

When our first family robot (Dusty, the robot vacuum) “died”, I found myself thanking it for helping my family have a clean floor to play on for the past two years. Strange? Or strangely beautiful?

I believe the best STEM thinkers not only use their brains, but their HEARTS also to fathom EVERY possibility.

My book, DOLL-E 1.0, is about a little girl who programs a doll to be her new friend! I want to encourage you in your STEM thinking and STEM class discussions to also consider matters of the heart. These heart matters might greatly affect the science, the technology, the engineering, and the math.

Besides DOLL-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey (me!), other books I recommend for discussing similar thoughts above are THE WILD ROBOT and THE WILD ROBOT ESCAPES by Peter Brown. For general considerations of the heart in regards to science, I recommend THE THIRTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer L. Holm. All these books are excellent read alouds with students that evoke questions!

And for some hands-on-crafting-coding fun, here is a DOLL-E 1.0 STEM Project Guide written by the brilliant Colleen Graves at Makey Makey Labz:

https://labz.makeymakey.com/cwists/preview/1657x

Now that’s linking literacy!


Shanda (rhymes with panda) comes from a whole family of different kinds of artists and entrepreneurs! She studied art in Atlanta and New York City. But before writing and illustrating kids books, she taught art to high-schoolers.

Shanda is the mama of two young girls and the wife of a cute web developer. DOLL-E 1.0 is her very first book about robots or anything for that matter!

DOLL-E 1.0 is out now, and its companion story, T-BONE THE DRONE, will release September 2019.

Shanda invites you to visit her at ShandaMc.com!

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Alexandra Siy

Everyone knows that picture books aren’t just for kids! Older children and adults love them, but does it work the other way? Can early elementary students learn from science nonfiction chapter books? The answer is yes, when we read out loud and use the valuable information provided in the back matter, and on the author’s website to make the science accessible. Reaching, and reading, for the stars builds confidence and interest in science, and introduces topics that generally aren’t covered in early picture books.

space - Voyager spaceship

Even if early elementary students can’t fully grasp all of the scientific details, they will be enriched by listening to the story of the Voyagers and the people who dreamed them up. They’ll want to see pictures of interstellar space, and gas giants, and magnetic fields. And they’ll want to listen to the Golden Record and then come-up with the songs, sounds, and images that they’d include on their “Golden Record” to send to the stars.

I reached for the stars when I decided to write about the twin Voyagers—the spacecraft that have been flying through space for over forty years. I was drawn to their story because they each carried a “Golden Record” of music, sounds, greetings, and electronic pictures from Earth. A record album flying through space…so cool!

It was fun thinking about the aliens who billions of years from now might discover Earth by playing the Golden Record. But I also had to grapple with concepts such as gravity assist, plasma waves, termination shock, and the magnetic highway. How do you explain this stuff to 12-year olds who haven’t had a semester of physics? I discovered the answers in the stories behind the science, about the thinkers whose imaginations made the Voyager mission possible. From Galileo and his telescope, to Carl Sagan who convinced NASA to photograph the Earth from 3.7 billion miles away, to Candy Hansen who found the “pale blue dot” in a sunbeam—stories are what connect us to science.

space - Footprints on the Moon

I encourage teachers and parents to help their elementary students reach for the stars by reading a chapter of science nonfiction out loud to them everyday. Supplement with images and videos from the author’s website and back pages, and you’ll be fueling the imaginations of our next generation of scientists!


Alexandra Siy is an award-winning science writer for children. Her recent title, Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space was an NSTA BEST STEM book. All of her titles explore science as art by using primary source imagery to reveal the extreme—from outer space to the microscopic world. Her innovative text structures include narrative nonfiction and expository literature with an emphasis on design. The co-creator of the Nonfiction Minute, a project of iNK Think Tank, Alexandra has combined her academic training in science (she has a BA in biology and an MA in science education) with her passion for story-telling and photography. She also holds an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature from SUNY Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing. Alexandra has lived in many states, including Alaska. She currently lives in New York State’s Hudson Valley with her teenage son and their cat.

 Please visit Alexandra Siy’s website for more information about her work.

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Jennifer Ward

Nature offers an infinite source of wonder. Big wonders: just how big is the universe? Little wonders: I wonder what made that tiny burrow in the ground? Wonders that ignite the imagination and facilitate deeper questioning, discovery and understanding. Each time I embark on a writing project, it begins with a simple concept from nature based on personal curiosity. As I become enlightened during my research and inquiry, it always brings me joy to learn more about how the planet works – and I am often left feeling a bit humbled and in awe.

Learning about animal homes helps scientists and conservationists ensure the safety of species whose numbers are threatened and declining.

Mama Dug a Little Den” is a book seemingly simple in concept. It portrays a variety of animal species and their homes in the wild. But if we choose to take time to wonder deeper about wild animals and their homes – how was the home created? Why was it created? Do species use the same home, season after season, year after year? Did it take a long time to make each home? And then wonder even more – how do wild animals survive the elements they face? Extreme weather? Predation? Habitat decline? How do parent animals ensure the safety of their offspring? How are we all connected?

These are the bits and pieces – little nuggets of curiosity – that spring from nature, wind up as words on the pages of a book, then serve as a springboard to science, discovery, understanding and, perhaps most importantly, empathy for all living things among book readers.

When sharing Mama Dug a Little Den with students, there are many layers and levels of learning that may be explored that align with Life Sciences curriculum standards in the area of Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems, as well as with Structure, Function and Information Processing.

  • Read texts and use media to determine patterns in behavior of wild animal parents and offspring that help offspring survive.
  • (LS1.A.1): How do animals use external parts to help them survive, grow and meet their needs? [check!]
  • (LS1.B): Growth and Development – adult plants and animals can have young. In many kinds of animals, parents and offspring both engage in behaviors that help the offspring survive. [check!]
  • Observations (LS1.C.1): How do wild animals survive? What do they need to survive? [check!]
  • Observe/Compare/Contrast (2-LS4-1): Students may make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats. [check!]

One den in the author’s backyard, de-mystified!

Cross curricular activities make learning even more meaningful and authentic.

  • Mathematics, (2.MD. D. 10) – Draw a picture graph or bar graph to represent bio-diversity among various explored ecosystems to represent documented data.
  • Literacy, (RI.1.1)  Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
  • (RI.1.2) Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.
  • (W.1.7) – Participate in shared research and writing projects, i.e. “How does a polar bear make a den?”  Write a “how to” sequence of instructions for specific animal homes and how each may be made.

Of course, it’s just as important to read for the sheer joy of reading, and walk in nature for the sheer joy of walking in nature. Who knows what that book or walk may lead you to wonder about? And what may be discovered?


I hope to discover you at the Linking Literacy event at the NSTA National Conference in St. Louis on April 12 – 13! This special event is going to be rich with people who value books, education, literacy, science and STEM. If I don’t see you there, you can find me on Facebook, where I share bits and news about writing, nature, STEM and birds.


Jennifer Ward is a naturalist and the award-winning author of more than 24 books for children, including Mama Built a Little Nest, an ALA Notable book, and Mama Dug a Little Den, a 2019 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, both illustrated by Caldecott honoree Steve Jenkins. Her work also includes Feathers and Hair, What Animals Wear, a 2018 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, and What Will Grow? which received 3, starred reviews and won the Growing Good Kid Book Award by the American Horticultural Society. Jennifer’s forthcoming science/nature books include, How to Find a Bird,illustrated by Diana Sudyka (Beach Lane Books, 2020); Round, illustrated by Lisa Congdon (Beach Lane Books, 2020), and Me with You, about symbiotic relationships in the wild, illustrated by Alexander Vidal (Beach Lane Books, 2021)Visit her on the web at JenniferWardBooks.com

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Heidi E.Y. Stemple

I’m much more poet than scientist. In fact, I didn’t really think I was writing a science book. Or, for that matter, a STEM book. All I wanted to do was write a good story about a subject I am passionate about.  But, I would bet that many of the people on the Best STEM and Outstanding Science Trade Book lists would probably say the same thing.  We just want to write a good story.

OK. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, my background is really both—poetry and science.  I was raised by parents who were each passionate about one. My mother is author Jane Yolen; my father, Dr. David Stemple was equal parts computer scientist and citizen scientist.  In fact, even if you have never met my dad or me, you may still know our story.  My mother immortalized us both in her book OWL MOON (illustrated by John Shoenherr, Caldecott 1988).  My father taught me everything I know about birds, and, in particular, owls. He and I participated in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for years. After his death, I continued owling for the count with my group, the O.M.G. (Owl Moon Gang) in his territory. We’re pretty good. On our best night night we called down 67 owls.

Heidi Stemple, selfie while counting birds at night.

I always wanted to write a book about the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. But, I wasn’t sure how to tell the story. I thought, maybe, I wanted to tell it from the point of view of a birder going out into the field. Maybe the mom telling her daughter goodnight and going out to start owling at midnight. Eventually, I realized I was trying to tell MY story. But, my story has already been told.  The story that needed telling was that of the man who started the count–Frank Chapman.  I only knew a very little bit about the actual first count. As I researched, I became fascinated by the idea that this one man had one small idea which, as it grew, changed the way we conducted scientific surveys. The story was important, but, additionally, it became a metaphor.  Unlike the arc of a regular story, COUNTING BIRDS starts at one point and grows larger exponentially because I began with Frank and moved through the evolution of the Count to modern day. I love the message that no idea is too small to change the world. Frank Chapman wasn’t the president or a great leader–he was just a guy who worked in a museum curating bird exhibits and a writer who owned a magazine. His idea wasn’t large, in fact, it was quite small—put down your guns and count another way– with your eyes and ears. That was almost 120 years ago. We are still doing it.

illustrated by Clover Robin

Published by Quarto

The other thing I love about this story is that it is about citizen science. You do not need a degree. You do not even need to be an adult. Some of the most influential people who changed the landscape of the natural sciences were not scientists at all.  Charles Darwin was aboard a ship that visited the Galapagos Islands when he observed the differences in species that sparked his curiosity and lead him to theorize about the origins of species, natural selection, and evolution. He was not on that boat as a scientist. Though he was an educated man, he was there as a companion to the captain.  And, he changed the world.  Mary Anning was even less qualified as a scientist than Darwin. She was a 10-year-old girl living on the coast of England in the early 1800s and working with her father collecting “curiosities,” which we know now were dinosaur fossils. She was not even allowed (no women were) in the Geological Society where the rich educated men discussed fossils and made proclamations about the new science of paleontology.  She had no scientific education. She was a child. And, she changed the world. 

Truly, for me, the most amazing thing that has come out of this book is that people who have read it—both adults and children—are contacting me to say they have joined the Count. So, in a small way, I feel like the book, itself, is contributing to science. Like the story says, “all birders are welcome.” I hope that readers see that, also, all ideas are welcome. Because, every idea and every person—no matter how small—has the potential to change science and the world.


Heidi E.Y. Stemple is the author of more than 25 books including YOU NEST HERE WITH ME, FLY WITH ME, MONSTER ACADEMY, and NOT ALL PRINCESSES DRESS IN PINK. She lives and writes on an old farm in western Massachusetts where all the animals (besides a couple of really lazy house cats) are wild. When she’s not writing, she teaches writing and visits schools to talk about being a writer. Once a year, she counts owls for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

You can learn more about her at: HeidiEYStemple.com

Or talk birds and books with her on social media:

Instagram and twitter: @heidieys

Facebook: Heidi Stemple, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Owl Count

On March 20, 2019, the first all-female space walk will take place. Astronuats Christina Koch and Anne McClain will go outside the International Space Station to work to replace nickel-hydrogen batteries with newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries for the power channel on one pair of the station’s solar arrays. This continues the ongoing work to upgrade the station’s power storage capacity.

Of course, females have been astronauts for a long time. Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into space when she flew on the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983. Many countries — Canada, France, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom — have sent women into orbit or space on Russian or US missions. And this isn’t the first time a female astronaut has done a space walk. There have been 213 space walks on the International Space Station. The first woman to walk in space was a cosmonaut, Svetlana Savitskaya. She was on her second mission when she space-walked on July 17, 1984 as part of Salyut 7-EP2.

Sunita Williams, Astronaut & Space Walker

One interesting female astronaut is Sunita Williams, Captain, U.S. Navy. She made seven spacewalks for a total of 50 hours and 40 minutes, putting her #9 in the list of most experienced space walkers. For females, she’s only surpassed by Peggy Whitson who has ten spacewalks for a total of 50 hours and 21 minutes.

While on the International Space Station (ISS), Sunita did many animal experiments. We’ve chronicled one such story in NEFERTIT, THE SPIDERNAUT. This spread shows her holding the spider habitat aboard the ISS. A Johnson jumping spider was sent to space for an interesting experiment. Most spiders spin webs to catch food. But jumping spiders actively hunt their prey and jump to catch their food. But what would happen is a spider was sent to a micro-gravity environment such as the ISS?

Space Walker and Astronaut Sunita Williams

Nefertiti was video taped for two weeks while she hunted in her habitat. She learned to hunt by putting down an anchoring thread, then jumping. Like a bungee cord, the thread pulled her back to the habitat’s surface. When she returned to Earth, she had to re-learn how to hunt.

Nefertiti the Spidernaut | MimsHouse.com Space experiment by space walker Sunita Williams
2017 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book

When I interviewed Sunita for the book, she said that after the experiment was over, she had a choice. She could have packed the spider away and let her die. However, she liked having something living beside her in the ISS. She set Nefertiti’s habitat near her desk. Sunita said that the spider’s eyes would follow her as she moved about the cabin space. Because of Sunita’s care of Nefertiti, she survived to come back to Earth.

Read Neferiti’s story now!

Watch the March 2019 Space Walks here.

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Patricia Newman

If elephants could teach, what topics would they choose? Perhaps they’d introduce you to a new species of African elephant called the forest elephant, and compare them to their savanna and Asian cousins. Perhaps they’d talk about the concept of a keystone species—how elephants support all other wildlife in their habitats. Or perhaps they’d discuss specific behaviors, such as how mothers care for their young. These are some of the usual topics we teach when confronted with wildlife. But elephants can be quite chatty. They trumpet a birth, roar at death, and rumble about migration routes. Pandemonium ensues when two elephants mate (no privacy in the elephant world). They also communicate in multiple frequencies—both within and below our range of hearing.

If elephants could teach, I think they’d teach sound.

Most elementary or intermediate sound units begin with the concept of sound as vibration. What if we turn that approach upside down and begin with sounds as a means of communication before drilling down to the physics of how sound is made? In other words, start with the phenomenon: I wonder what those elephants are saying?

Eavesdropping on Elephants cover

            In Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation, I tell the story of a group of scientists with The Elephant Listening Project who study forest elephants. They use sound to explain how elephants use the forest, interpret what they’re saying to one another, and help save them from extinction. As a reader, you dive into the rain forest of central Africa with the scientists to figure out how they accomplish these goals, but at the same time you are learning about sound:

  1. How scientists record sound and what they do with it once it’s recorded.
  2. How to read a spectrogram and understand terms such as fundamental frequency and harmonics. How to identify audible sound versus infrasound (generally humans cannot hear sound below 20 Hertz).
  3. How observations PLUS sound help scientists decode what elephants are saying to each other. The audio and video QR code links in the book transport you to the forest to observe—and listen to—elephants the way the scientists did.

Once you’ve read the book, try some of these simple sound experiments with children (all of which are explained in detail in my Eavesdropping on Elephants teacher guide developed by educators at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology):

  1. A language of your own (activity #3 in the teacher guide) –Team up with a partner and communicate using only sounds—no words. Can your partner tell when you’re scared? Sad? Issuing a warning? Surprised? Now watch the video of two elephants saying hello on p. 23 of the book (you can either use the QR code or type in the short link). How do the elephants communicate?
  2. Make a sound map (activity #5 in the teacher guide) — Go outside with a clipboard and a piece of paper. Sit quietly. Make a map of what you hear. Use different symbols to represent cars, squirrels, birds, etc. Can you determine which sounds are close and which are far away? Natural vs. human-generated?
  3. Decoding spectrograms (activity #9 in the teacher guide) – Study the spectrogram on page 15 of the book. What does the graph measure? Can you tell which sounds have a lot of energy behind them or are higher? Are there parts of the spectrogram that indicate sound you can’t hear? Now watch the videos listed in the teacher guide. These are cool, because you not only see and hear the elephants, but you see a spectrogram in motion as the sound occurs.
  4. Create your own spectrogram (activity #10 in the teacher guide) – Get your tech on with this activity. Download an app or spectrogram software and start experimenting. What range of frequencies can you produce? What visual patterns can you create? Can you change the sound by varying the playback speed?

Each one of these activities may be expanded to discuss aspects of sound—vibration, wavelength, loudness, pitch, and the mechanics of how we produce sound.

If elephants could teach, they’d definitely teach sound.

I hope to see you at the Linking Literacy event on April 12-13 during the NSTA National Conference in St. Louis. Panel discussions, small group conversations with authors, and book signings promise to tickle your inner STEM!

Can’t make it? Find me on Twitter @PatriciaNewman, Facebook, or Pinterest


Patricia Newman’s award-winning books show kids how their actions can ripple around the world. She is the author of the Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; as well as NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation; Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book; and Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Newman hopes to empower kids to think about the adults they’d like to become. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Mims House is very excited to see that POLLEN: Darwin’s 130-Year Prediction has received a starred Kirkus Review! It’s also a Junior Library Guild selection.

Sometimes scientists take a long time to reach a conclusion—and the team of Pattison and Willis (Clang!, 2018, etc.) explores that idea in this look at a hypothesis about a moth and a flower.
In 1862, Charles Darwin received orchids in the mail (the variety is depicted in the beautiful mixed-media illustrations from Willis, who painted on newspaper to create textured images). When Darwin noticed that the star orchid’s nectary was unusually long, he envisioned the type of creature, a huge moth, that would have had to evolve to allow the flower to reproduce. In 1903, two entomologists found the hawk moth, which they believed to be the insect that Darwin imagined, with a lengthy, trunklike proboscis. But there was a problem: “No one had seen the hawk moth pollinate the star orchid.” It wasn’t until 1992 that entomologist Lutz Thilo Wasserthal was able to verify that the moth and flower depended on each other. Using plenty of science vocabulary made approachable through conversational text and Willis’ kid-friendly illustrations, Pattison captures the sense of wonder that comes from discovery, even if the proof arrives 130 years after the initial idea. The intriguing moment is well-told in this third installment of a picture book series, giving real insight into the scientific process and celebrating the determined researchers who strive to further human knowledge.
An illuminating introduction to Darwin and evolutionary development for young readers.

Kirkus Reviews
POLLEN: Darwin's 130 Year Prediction | MimsHouse.com. Starred Kirkus Review.
Pollen: Darwin’s 130 Year Prediction – coming May 7, 2019| MimsHouse.com

Preorder the ebook for POLLEN!

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Jen Swanson

What is the best thing about science? Some might say learning. Others experimenting. But for me, it’s all about the inquiry. I love asking questions. Why? Because I want to know how things work. And I’m sure a lot of readers have questions, too. That is why I pack my books full of facts. Ones that might challenge them to think more deeply about a topic, or just fun facts that they can share with their friends.

But in my book, Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact (NGKids) I decided to take inquiry to another level. I went straight to the reader and invited them to take a trip with me and explore their career options by asking them the question:

Astronaut or Aquanaut—Which would you be?

There is no better way to explore how you feel about something than to “experience” it. Okay, so you won’t actually become an astronaut or aquanaut by turning the pages of this book. But you will understand what it takes to train, work, and live there.

It’s so much fun to imagine what our future careers will be one day. You might find yourself wishing to blast of into space OR to dive deep under the ocean. But would you like either of these careers? Are they hard to do? What kind of training is needed? And WHAT does the suit you have to wear look and feel like?

These are all amazing questions.

Take a look at the two suits. There is a lot to explore in each one. Which do you think is more comfortable? Which one is designed for easy movement? Which one looks cooler? Why does one have a sun shield and the other a giant flashlight?

By answering these questions, readers are exploring their own knowledge of different topics while actually learning more about these two environments. In understanding that the astronaut needs a sunshield, students are aware that it can be very bright in space, but the flashlight is needed underwater because the sun’s rays can’t penetrate the depths of the ocean.

This very simple comparison opens the door to limitless inquiry and discusions that lead to great understanding. But wait. There’s more. Because this is a science/STEM/STEAM book we have some fun activities for you to do right in your own home to see which one of these careers you might choose.

Astronaut Training

Do you have what it takes to dock at the Space Station?

Grab a tennis ball, a big plastic cup, some rope or strong string and give it a try. It’s not as easy as you think!

Aquanaut Training

Underwater is all about how things float. If you were going to dive deep under water, how do you make sure that you stay down there? And how do you make sure that you come back up? That force is called Buoyancy. It’s a force that pushes up on us as gravity pushes down.

Try this experiment to see how things float… or sink

Did you succeed? Did both of your experiments work? Which one did you like more? Again, this point of inquiry allows readers to evaluate what they did during the experiment. Re-think. Revise and try again. Just like real scientists and engineers do.

Challenge: If you’re looking for more ways to decide, I challenge you to design your own space suit OR underwater suit. What would it look like? What tools would it have? Draw it and compare with your friend.

So what did you decide? Will you be an  Astronaut OR Aquanaut?

My choice? Aquanaut. All the way.

I’d rather see this out my window:

Than this:

Although to be quite honest, they are both amazing views!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Darcy. I can’t wait to meet all the amazing science educators at NSTA in St. Louis.


Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact earned a California Reading Association Gold Award, a Silver Medal in the Florida Book Awards, and was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a 2019 NSTA Best STEM book.

Jennifer Swanson

www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

Bio: Science Rocks! And so do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for children. Jennifer’s passion for science resonates in in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge) which was named an NSTA Best STEM book of 2017. Jennifer’s book, Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Re-setting the Thermostat (Lerner Books) received a Green Earth Book Honor Award. Her Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact received a Eureka California Reading Association Gold Award, a Silver Medal in the Florida Book Awards, and a 2019 NSTA BEST STEM book award.  She has presented at multiple SCBWI conferences, National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, the World Science Festival and the Atlanta Science Festival. You can find Jennifer through her website www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Carrie J. Launius and Christine Royce

NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books – since 1973

national science teachers assocation outstanding trade book seal

In 1973, the first Outstanding Science Trade Books list was published on cooperation between the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council. This list which identifies books that were published in the previous year has continued since that day with the same collaborators and many scientists, educators, and librarians having served on the review panels throughout the years.

While this book list is now in approaching it’s fiftieth year, the criteria associated with the books selected have been tweaked over time but remain largely consistent.  Books

  • must be scientifically accurate and not contrary to current scientific thinking;
  • should not lead to misconceptions or oversimplify facts;
  • engage students in the understanding of science;
  • include an informative and aesthetically appealing format with the presentation of information in a logical and clear sequence;
  • are appropriate for the intended audience;
  • should be without significant personification, teleology, or animism or inaccurate anthropomorphism;

Additionally, if conflicting scientific theories exist, as many views as possible are represented. Finally, but equally important, the information is free of gender, ethnic, or socio-economic bias, whenever possible.

Best STEM Books

    Fast forward to the current time and the recognition that STEM has a definite place and need within the current classroom.  Knowing this, the Best STEM Book List morphed from the Outstanding Science Trade Book List and added to the recommendations books that could be utilized as exemplars in the area of STEM thinking.

While the criteria for the OSTB has been vetted and are clear, the criteria for the BSB is muddy as it is not nearly as cut and dry (i.e. has accurate science content) when selecting books for this list.  Much more inference is used while reading the books. The original idea was due to the fact that it was desirable to shine the light on what we believed created STEM-like thinking and provide resources that modeled that for students.  We looked at a variety of books, examined their components, and analyzed them to identify what we thought a STEM book would look like; but more importantly, we determined what was NOT a STEM book though the use of the Frayer Model.  Once an initial categorization was determined, a small team of educators developed the criteria.

The initial starting point considered that a STEM book was not just a book that taught science, technology, engineering or math.  A STEM book promoted STEM-like thinking and needed to incorporate at least two of those subjects in an integrated and supported manner.  The goal was to select books to promote not only convergent thinking but also divergent thinking.

After much research and thought we came across these STEM Book tenets which require that books

  • models innovation;
  • illustrates authentic problems;
  • assimilates new or more efficient ideas;
  • invites divergent thinking;
  • shows progressive change or improvement;
  • explores multiple solutions to problems; and
  • integrates STEM disciplines.

Along with this criteria books needed to have accurate content,  be age appropriate, and incorporates and demonstrates diversity. 

    To engage students in STEM topics and STEM like thinking, it is important that students be provided with a plethora of experiences from the earliest of ages.  Providing opportunities for students to gain exposure to STEM like thinking through literature allows students to connect this experience to other opportunities that they have. There are additional benefits for using books in this way which include the ability for students to get into the “heads” of the story characters; consider experiences that they characters have had or are describing,  and begin to understand the “thinking stance” associated with how they approached the situation described.  Furthermore, we want students to use the experiences and thinking strategies described in the story in their own experiences and to learn to take risks, be bold, and try new things. 

In considering all of the wonderful books published each year, you might run across a book that you believe should have made one of our lists based on the criteria.  We find these books too.  By providing additional information about the process and the existence of the list, we hope that more publishers would submit books to the CBC for consideration.  Books cannot be reviewed for consideration as a Best STEM Book, if it has not been submitted.

There is no doubt that both of these book lists have a similar goal which is to bring quality children’s literature into the K-12 classroom  in order to utilize the books as a springboard for engaging students in the pursuit of science disciplines and STEM habits of mind.

Check out the current OSTB and BSB lists.


Carrie J Launius
Carrie J. Launius, co-leader of the Linking Literacy Event.

Carrie J. Launius created the Best STEM Book Award, is co-leader of the Linking Literacy Event at the 2019 NSTA Convention, is the Elementary Science Coordinator for St. Louis Public Schools as well as the NSTA District XI Director.



Christine Royce, Current President of the NSTA

Christine Royce, Ph.D is the current president of the National Science Teacher’s Association and co-leader of the Linking Literacy Event for the 2019 NSTA Convention.

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest blog by Melissa Stewart

Photos like this one warm my heart. They’re potent reminders of why I write for kids.

When this girl read my book Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, she was fascinated by the Galápagos tortoise. She couldn’t believe that it took this giant turtle almost 6 hours to travel one mile—a distance she could easily walk in just 20 minutes.

book cover for Melissa Stewart book

And yet, the tortoise is able to survive because its thick, heavy shell protects it from predators. It may be a slowpoke, but it really doesn’t matter one bit.

When adults read the facts in my book, their curiosity might be momentarily piqued, but then they move on. Kids are different. They dig in and revel in their fascination. They ask questions, and then they go in search of the answers. They read and explore and discover. There’s just no stopping a curious kid!

This girl was so intrigued by Galápagos tortoises that she took the time to let her imagination soar. Using her creativity and simple materials available right in her classroom, she made a physical model and engaged in some powerful kinesthetic learning. By literally trying on some of the Galápagos tortoise’s unique body features, she gained a deeper understanding of the animal’s way of life and how it experiences the world. Now that’s a science lesson that will last a lifetime.

We all know that books can change lives, but we can’t always predict which book will speak to a particular child and how it will influence him/her. That’s why it’s so important to give all students access to a rich, diverse array of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and expository nonfiction titles.


Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 180 nonfiction books for children, including Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins; and the upcoming title Seashells: More than a Home, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. Melissa’s highly-regarded website features a rich array of educational resources for teaching nonfiction reading and writing.

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.


Guest Post by Suzanne Slade

Nearly 50 years ago astronauts landed on the moon for the first time.

I still can’t believe humans achieved this monumental feat!

Growing up, my understanding of the first landing was rather simple: Apollo 11 landed and Neil Armstrong took man’s first step on the moon. As an adult, I was surprised to discover that the earlier Apollo missions (1-10) faced many little-known trials and tragedies. (Did you know the Apollo 1 astronauts died on the launchpad during a test?)

50th Anniversary of First Moon Landing

About 9 years ago I decided to create a special book for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing (July 2019). One that shared Team Apollo’s remarkable ingenuity and bravery, as well as their surprises and setbacks. As a mechanical engineer who used to worked on rockets, I knew writing about spacecraft, flight trajectories, and mission details would entail a lot research. Just like the precise moon missions, there was no room for error. So I dug in. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know!

In September 2018, COUNTDOWN: 2979 DAYS TO THE MOON (illustrated by NYT best-selling illustrator Thomas Gonzalez) released. It shares the incredible 2979 days leading up to the first moon landing—from President Kennedy’s 1961 announcement that America should land on the moon, to Armstrong’s first step on the moon.

Ironically, this book took me about 2979 days (8.2 years).

Timeline of Writing COUNTDOWN

For those who like the “inside scoop,” here’s a brief timeline of that process.

Day 1: On November 20, 2009 I began research for COUNTDOWN with astronaut autobiographies, reliable books, and NASA websites.

Day 44: Dove into the Apollo mission transcripts (Apollo Flight Journal and Apollo Lunar Surface Journal). Read the astronauts’ own words as they worked and joked together. (Did you know the astronauts called each other “Babe?” Ah, the groovy 60s!)

Day 198: Began studying the mesmerizing photos in the Apollo image gallery.

(COUNTDOWN contains 52 phenomenal Apollo pictures.)

Day 370: Completed a detailed story outline.

Day  685: Visited Chicago Adler Planetarium “Mission Moon” exhibit and examined Apollo module, spacesuits, helmets, a moon rock, and more.

Day 1485: Awesome day! Interviewed astronaut Alan Bean (4th man on the moon). He discussed how he became an astronaut, his harrowing Apollo 12 launch (his rocket was hit by lightening twice!), and his one regret—he wished he’d smuggled a football to the moon and thrown the longest pass in the universe.

Day 1500: Exchanged emails with Apollo 7 astronaut, Walt Cunningham.

Day 1660: Finally began first draft. The first lines came out in short, lyrical lines or free verse. The voice felt right for the immediacy and tension of the story, so I went with it.

Day 1850: Shared manuscript with critique friends. They provided feedback on various versions over the next two years.

Day 2111: Made list of “echo words” that appeared in the story often (“spacecraft,” “small,” “powerful”) and replaced many with other words.

Day 2510: Peachtree Publishers acquired the project. (Happy dance!)

Day 2630: Sent my 51-page Sources Doc with sources for all facts to illustrator Tom Gonzalez, who’d signed onto the project. (Another happy dance!)

Day 2766: Tom Gonzalez emailed about Apollo 8 details. As the project continued, we chatted many times about Schirra’s beard, Schweickart’s spacewalk, gloves, and other tedious details.

Day 2874: PDF of Tom’s first sketches arrived. Over time, I reviewed several rounds of sketches/art for technical accuracy.

Day 2920: Dr. Dave Williams from NASA agreed to vet the story. Over the next year we exchanged dozens of emails. Dave sent an audio recording of the final transmission of the Apollo 1 crew which allowed the book to accurately share their last words.

Days 2934-2964: Worked 60+ hour weeks on final edits and fact checking.

Exhausting, yet exciting to see the book coming together so beautifully.

Day 2979: After 8+ years on the project, I submitted last edits January 15, 2018.

Finally, the 144-page book was going to the printer. Whew!

Countdown Cover

“Stunning… Truly out of this world. A must-buy for most poetry collections.” — STARRED Review, School Library Journal

Free Resources for COUNTDOWN

COUNTDOWN Book Trailer

COUNTDOWN Teacher’s Guide

If you attend the NSTA National April Conference in St. Louis, I’d love to see you at the “Conversations with Authors” session Friday afternoon. Also, please stop by to see me Saturday 10:00-11:00am in the autograph area for a free “Astronaut Selfie” photo*.

(*You in an astronaut suit soaring through space!)

More great “space” resources:

Story Time from Space – Videos of astronauts reading books on the International Space Station. My book, ASTRONAUT ANNIE, is blasting off on the next resupply rocket and will be read by an astronaut on the ISS!

NASA TV – Live transmission of astronauts working on the International Space Station.

NASA Kids’ Club – Exciting games, crafts, and activities for students.

Click “Find Out Who Is on the Space Station” link to see who’s on the Space Station now.

Spot the Station – Input your location to see when the International Space Station will be passing over your town.

NASA Teach – Awesome rockets activities for grades K-12.


Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 children’s books. A mechanical engineer by degree who worked on Delta rockets, she often writes about STEM topics. Along with Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, other recent titles include: Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, Astronaut Annie, The Inventor’s Secret, and Dangerous Jane. Free Teacher’s Guides for these books and more at www.suzanneslade.com. @AuthorSSlade

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Mary Kay Carson

Inventors make fantastic subjects for young reader biographies. One of favorite quotes from inventor extraordinaire Alexander Graham Bell explains why.

The inventor is a man who looks around upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world.

Alexander Graham Bell book cover

The desire to “find a better way” or improve on some technology is something all students identify with. Who hasn’t been frustrated with some lackluster product or confounding gadget, after all. That includes kids.

Inventing is about using critical thinking to solve a problem. It’s why I love writing books for kids about inventors. Taking young readers through an inventor’s process from idea to practical invention is a fun journey. It often provides a perfect narrative structure full of flashes of insight, horrific failures, eureka moments, devastating setbacks, and thrilling successes. Whew! What a ride!

Inventors are rarely boring characters—another reason they’re a pleasure to write about. Alexander Graham Bell was a forward thinker who immigrated to the United States and had many interests and talents. While famous for inventing the telephone, Bell invented and experimented his entire life and considered his true life work to be teaching those with hearing impairments to speak.

Here are a couple of other things you might not know about the Scottish-American inventor and educator. Alexander Graham Bell…

  • invented an improved phonograph that Thomas Edison had to buy the patent for in order to build a usable product.
  • worked with early airplane inventors Glenn Curtiss and Samuel Langley and competed with the Wright Brothers.
  • attempted to save President Garfield from his fatal gunshot wound with a bullet-finding invention similar to a metal detector.
  • was a pioneering speech teacher to the deaf and a life-long friend and mentor of Helen Keller.
  • emigrated from Scotland with his parents after both his brothers died from tuberculosis.

Reading about the lives and work of past inventors is a great way to inspire the next generation of tinkerers, fixers, and makers of a better world.


In her 25 years as a writer of books for young people, Mary Kay Carson has authored more than fifty titles. Her books have received many starred reviews as well as earned awards, including the 2019 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Hands-On Science Book for Alexander Graham Bells for Kids, the 2016 Green Prize for Sustainable Literature for Inside Biosphere 2; and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics 2009 Children’s Literature Award for Exploring the Solar System. Find out more about her and her books at www.marykaycarson.com

Pin It