Mims Kids


What if you planned a scientific experiment and something went wrong with the equipment or the circumstances of the experiment? You’d be smart to design backup experiments.

TWO SPIDERNAUTS – Backup experiments

When Bioserve, the Colorado company in charge of live animal experiments on the International Space Station, decided to send a jumping spider into space, they had backups in place. The lead spider was supposed to be Cleopatra, a zebra jumping spider (Salticus scenicus).

Nefertiti (on left) started as the backup spider. Cleopatra (on right) was supposed to be the lead spider. But she hid when the camera was running, so they had no footage of her hunting in space.

But the experiment had strict parameters. They would video the spiders for an hour a day for several days. The video feeds to Earth were expensive and no more time could be allowed for recording how the spiders operated in the microgravity of space.

Most spiders spin webs to catch prey. Jumping spiders, however, actively hunt their food. They jump to catch a fly. But when a spider jumps in microgravity…it just floats away. Would the spiders be able to adapt and hunt?

Cleopatra, the lead spider, was camera shy. She may have done amazing jumps in space, but seldom did she appear on film.

Instead, Nefertiti, the backup spider (Phiddipus johnsonii), took the limelight. She was photographed jumping to catch fruit flies in her habitat. In fact, she leapt as no other jumping spider has ever jumped. She laid down an anchor thread, just as she might on Earth. Then, she leapt for the spider. The resolution on the video is too low for slow-motion that would allow scientists to measure the angle of her jump. But watching you can see that it’s a flat jump with little arc. After she catches the fruit fly, Nefertiti allowed the anchor thread to pull her back to the wall of the habitat, like a bungee cord.

Nefertiti the Spidernaut | Nefertiti was the backup experiment for this spiders on the International Space Station experiment. |
2017 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book

The video of Nefertiti jumping answered the scientific questions. Yes, jumping spiders can adapt to microgravity. Even more exciting was the video of Nefertiti’s first hunt back on Earth. She leapt toward the fruit fly—but her aim was off. She fell flat. It took three tries for Nefertiti to catch—and finally eat—her meal.

Without the backup spider—Nefertiti—the experiment would’ve failed. Cleopatra didn’t cooperate, but Nefertiti did.

THREE TELESCOPES – Backups for backups

Another example of a backup experiment occurred in 1919 when astronomers wanted to photograph the solar eclipse in May that year.

Einstein had recently put forth his theory of general relativity. It talked about the effect of gravity and acceleration on light. Light, the theory said, could bend or curve if pulled by a strong enough gravity.

OK. Now, HOW do you design an experiment to prove/disprove THAT theory?

Fortunately, astronomer Arthur Eddington thought he knew. During an eclipse, he suggested, they could measure the position of distant stars. As the light passed by our sun SOL, Einstein’s theory said the light would bend slightly. If the stars’ positions appeared to move, the light had bent.
The 1919 solar eclipse was the perfect time to measure the position of stars behind the sun. They sent a team to Principe Island (the Chocolate Islands, so named because of Cacao Plantations), just off the coast of Africa.

Example of backup experiments. The larger telescope blurred the image of the 1919 solar eclipse. The backup telescope produces the clearest photos. |
The telescopes in Sobral, Brazil were protected from weather by a small hut. They took one large telescope, but the heat warped it and the images blurred. The smaller 4″ telescope gave sharper images.

A BACKUP team went to Brazil. They expected that the images from Principe Island would be the best images to measure the phenomenon. But on Principe just at the time of the eclipse, a storm struck. It cleared enough for some photos to be made. The book, ECLIPSE: How the 1919 Solar Eclipse Proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity is for elementary readers and will release on October 8, 2019.

Eclipse cover |
ECLIPSE will be available on October 8, 2019.

The Brazil team had problems of their own. The heat warped the telescope enough to blur the images. However, they also had a second—BACKUP—telescope. It only had 4” lenses instead of the larger ones they hoped to use. But it was better than nothing, they reasoned.
Indeed, the 4” telescope in Brazil–the backup experiment–produced the best images of the eclipse and helped prove Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The BACKUP team with the BACKUP telescope!

Backup experiments: Read about two experiments that relied on the backups for success: Spidernauts on the International Space Station and photographing the 1919 solar eclipse. | MimsHouse

September 6 is Read a Book Day and to celebrate it, we’ve created a poll. How do your students/children read? We’d like to know where our readers fall on the question of reading!

TAKE THE Mims House Read a Book Day SURVEY

Our survey is a simple 2-minute look at the reading habits of your children/students. Join with us to see if this slice of readers compares to the national averages.

The Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report for 2019 is here. Between September 6, 2018 and October 4, 2018, they sample 2,758 parents and children about their reading habits. This is the seventh year for the report, so it’s fascinating to look at the changes from year to year.

For example, the number of Frequent Readers (reads daily) has declined from 37% to 31%, while those reading InFrequently (less than 1 day/week) has risen from 21% to 28%. It’s this type of change that the Scholastic report captures well. Still, 72% of kids are Frequent or Moderately Frequent readers! And that’s good news! And overall, about 58% of kids say that reading is FUN!

Of Characters and Diversity

In today’s #metoo world, the message is reaching parents and kids that diversity in books is important. 58% of parents report diversity is extremely or very important, and 38% of kids agree. This is especially important where there are multicultural pictures to illustrate the story.

In the midst of the multicultural discussion though, characters hold the trump card. As the report says, “The top three types of characters kids ages 6–17 want in books do not vary across gender, age or ethnicity and reflect the reader’s own aspirations: characters who they want to be like because they are smart, brave or strong, who face and overcome challenges, and who are “similar to me.”

Asian Grandmother showing diversity for Read a Book day.
The boy in I CAN MAKE WISE CHOICES wants to please his Asian grandmother with the perfect birthday gift.
Click cover for more information on this book.

Help Kids Choose Great Books

42% of kids report a hard time finding a great book. That’s where YOU come in! We’ve written about the importance of kids’ choices. 91% of kids say that their favorite book is one that they chose themselves! Classroom libraries are highlighted in this year’s report as an important source of reading material. Especially when a home doesn’t have many books, classroom libraries become more important and yet only 43% of kids have access to one.

The Scholastic report contains much more fascinating information on the reading habits of American kids. They also have international reports available.

We’re interested in YOUR children/students. Please take our 2-minute survey of your students’/children’s reading habits. Most of all, though, go read a book on this Read a Book Day!

READ MORE – About Kids Reading Habits

New book covers! We spent the summer looking through our catalog and refreshing book covers as needed. Here’s the first update on a poignant family story.

Book cover - Longing for normal

This UPLIT story is about a couple of brave, determined kids!

A boy unites an immigrant community and rebuilds his family–using a simple sourdough bread recipe.

Eliot Winston, a grieving son, must convince his new step-mother – now Griff Winston’s widow – to adopt him. But when she married Griff Winston, Marj hadn’t bargained on being the single mother of a twelve-year-old boy. Alli Flynn, a foster child new to the school, convinces Eliot that he must fight to keep his family intact and the best way to do that is to help Mrs. Winston with the Bread Project, a fund raising project for the school. With his whole future at stake, Eliot tries hard to please Marj; but as the deadlines near for the Bread Project and for Marj to sign his adoption papers, Eliot finds it harder and harder to hang on to hope.

In the tradition of Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt, this poignant middle grade novel follows two kids who search for a family and a home. The story is told in alternating voices, which Booklist describes as  “. . .voices old before their time, due to years in the system. . . .” The Bread Project gives them a way to reach into a wide variety of homes and create community. It’s a tender story of two lonely hearts looking for a place to belong.

Come and cheer for Eliot and Alli as they fight for a community, a family, a home.

Review Copies of Longing for Normal

Would you like a review copy of Longing for Normal? Reviews on Amazon or Goodreads are important to updating a title, too. We’re happy to send you a complimentary copy. Email us!

The first day of school is exciting, nerve-wracking, and fun! Kids need encouragement to make friends and our book, WONKY: A ROBOTICS CLUB STORY is perfect multicultural book for the job.

Wonky: A Robotics Club Story |
Great multicultural read aloud for the first day of school!

Howie, a shy turtle, is scared that he won’t make friends. Typical of the first day of school, he doubts that anyone will share his passion for robots. During Robotics Club, everyone chooses up partners and Howie is left out. He puts on a brave front:

“No big deal,” he says. “Just what I wanted anyway. This way, no one will ruin my robot design.”

But inside, he’s dying.

And then–the classroom door bursts open and in bounds Lincoln, a boisterous ostrich. Of course, the teacher insists that this unlikely pair become a team.

Nathaniel Gold‘s charming illustrations take the reader through the design process as the pair tries to decide on what kind of robot they want to make.

Interior page of Wonky: A Robotics Club Story.
Interior page from WONKY: A ROBOTICS CLUB STORY.

Howie and Lincoln take animals as inspiration for their designs with 8-legged robots, 5-legged robots, and more. From a design standpoint, they are favoring form over function. They they finally decide what they want the robot to DO, Howie and Lincoln find common ground.

This encourages divergent thinking as Lincoln and Howie design a robot. For kids who are rigid and inflexible, they’ll see the value of considering different options, and accepting those who are different.

Because LIncoln the ostrich comes from Africa, there’s also a multicultural element to the story. It’s easy to see and discuss the differences between a box turtle and an ostrich. By framing multicultural acceptance with animals, it avoids specific mention of any one culture and adapts well to any ethnic mix. Of course, teachers and parents may bring in specific cultural references as desired or needed.

STEM + Back to School

The STEM ideas of designing for function combine with a friendship story. It sets the tone for a STEM-focused classroom.

.” . .offbeat and clever. . . With pages filled with animals and robots, this tale will certainly appeal to kids. . . .”

Kirkus Reviews

On this website, you can purchase the ebook. We guarantee that you can read it on the device of your choice, or your money back. Find the paperback and hardcovers at your favorite educational distributor or online store.

Girl holds book cover of WONKY: A ROBOTICS CLUB STORY

Thanks, space animals! You helped us get here!

Where were you 50 years ago? (Were you even alive?) On July 20, we’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. It was the culmination of years of research into space travel. We’re in another time period of pushing for space exploration, with the updated goal of landing a man on Mars. Because of that, children’s books about the first moon landing and space books in general are popular right now.

12 men walked on the Moon, but since the Apollo era, no one has been back since 1972. However, since 2000, humans have lived in the microgravity of the International Space Station (ISS). We needed to understand what happened to the human body during an extended stay in space. The most famous experiment was astronaut Scott Kelly, whose twin brother stayed on Earth, while Scott spent a year in space. Scientists studied how bones, muscle and other body parts differed between the twins after a year in space.

Animals Supported Space Travel

The past 50 years have been important ones for space travel as scientists answered many questions about supporting life in space. Part of that has been doing animal experiments to study responses of different animals to the environment of microgravity. This has included monkeys, dogs, tortoises, mice, and insects.

Animals in space date back to testing of hot air balloons by the French Montgolfier brothers. They sent a sheep, a duck and a rooster up in the balloons to see if ground dwelling animals could survive. Later, animals went up to 27 miles high; these included fruit flies, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, cats, dogs, frogs, goldfish and monkeys. Albert II, a rhesus monkey, launched into space on June 11, 1949, going up 83 miles. Unfortunately, he died on impact after a parachute failure. The death rate among monkeys at this stage was very high: some sources say that about two-thirds of all monkeys launched in the 1940s and 1950s died on missions or soon after landing. In 1951, the monkey Yorick was the first monkey to survive space flight and return to Earth alive.

During the early exploration years, the Soviets sent nine dogs into space, some more than once. France flew their first rat (Hector) into space on 22 February 1961. The United States launched Biosatellite I in 1966 and Biosatellite I/II in 1967 with fruit flies, parasitic wasps, flour beetles and frog eggs, along with bacteria, amoebae, plants and fungi. In September 1968, the Soviets sent the Horsfeld tortoises to circle the moon, the first animals to survive deep space. From the Wikipedia article, here’s a list of Animals in Space:

Over 500 animals have lived in space and taught us about surviving in that harsh environment.
  • 1947 Fruit flies, 68 miles high
  • 1949 Albert II, rhesus monkey, 83 miles high
  • 1950 Mouse, space
  • 1951 Dogs Tsygan (Gypsy) and Dezik, space but not orbit
  • 1951 Mice, sub-space
  • 1957 Dog Laika – orbited Earth, plus 10 other dogs
  • 1958 South American squirrel monkey Gordo
  • 1959 Monkeys Able (rhesus) and Baker (squirrel monkey). Baker lived till November 29, 1984
  • 1959 two space dogs and Marfusa, the first rabbit in space
  • 1959 2 frogs and 12 mice
  • 1960 Dogs Belka and Strelka, a gray rabbit, 40 mice, 2 rats, 15 flasks of fruit flies and plants
  • 1960 Three black mice: Sally, Amy and Moe
  • 1961 Ham the chimp
  • 1961 Enos the Chimp, orbited Earth
  • 1961 Dog Chernushka, some mice, frogs, and a guinea pig
  • 1961 French rat, Hector and two other rats
  • 1963 Cat Felicette and another cat
  • 1967 Two French monkeys
  • 1964-66 Chinese mice, rats, and two dogs
  • 1966 Dogs Veterok (Little Wind) and Ugolyok (Blackie), 22 days in orbit, the longest space flight for a dog
  • 1966-7 Fruit flies, parasitic wasps, flour beetles, frog eggs, bacteria, amoebae
  • 1967 Argentenian rat Belisario, and other rats
  • 1968 Horsfield tortoises, circumlunar voyage, along with wine flies, meal worms and other animals
  • 1969 Macaque monkey, Bonny
  • 1950-60 Soviets has passenger slots for 57 dogs, but some dogs went several times
  • 1969 Cai monkey, Juan
  • 1970 Two bullfrogs
  • 1972 Nematodes
  • 1972 Pocket mice: Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum and Phooey. Circled moon for six days with astronaut Ronald Evans
  • 1975 Pocket mice, first fish (mummichog, first spiders (garden spiders Arabella and Anita)
  • 1975 Tortoises, rats, mummichog fish and zebra danio fish
  • 1980s – eight monkeys, zebra danio fish, fruit flies, rats, stick insect eggs and newts
  • 1985 two squirrel monkeys, 24 male albino rats, and stick insect eggs
  • 1985 10 newts
  • 1989 chicken embryos (experiment designed for a student contest)
  • 1990 Four monkeys, frogs, fruit flies, brine shrimp, newts, fruit flies, sand desert beetles
  • 1990 Chinese guinea pigs
  • 1990 Japanese tree frogs, quail eggs
  • 1995 newt
  • 1990s – US sent crickets, mice, rats, frogs, newts, fruit flies, snails, carp, medaka (Japanese rice fish), oyster toadfish, sea urchins, swordtail fish, gypsy moth eggs, stick insect eggs, brine shrimp, quail eggs, and jellyfish
  • 2003 silkworms, garden orb spiders, carpenter bees, harvester ants, Medaka, Nematodes, and quail eggs
  • 2006 Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Mexican jumping beans, South African flat rock scorpions, seed-harvester ants
  • 2007 Tradigrades, also known as water-bears, cockroaches (one conceived while in space)
  • 2009 Painted lady and monarch butterfly larvae for a school experiment
  • 2010 Iranian mouse, two turtles, and some worms
  • 2011 Golden orb spiders named Gladys and Esmeralda, with fruit flies to eat. Tardigrades and extremophiles
  • 2012 Medaka fish for new Aquatic Habitat on ISS
  • 2013 Iranian monkey
  • 2014 Pavement ants
  • 2014 one male and four female geckos
  • 2014 Twenty mice
  • 2015 Twenty mice
  • 2016 Twenty mice
  • 2018 Twenty mice

Nefertiti the Spidernaut: The Jumping Spider Who Learned to Hunt in Space

It would be impossible to tell the story of each animal who has gone to space and taught us about how to survive in that harsh environment! But one story of a spider stands out. It’s tempting to give her human qualities, but she was just a spider. A hungry one! She learned to modify her hunting methods to adapt to the micrograviy of space. And she survived to come back to Earth alive and grow fat again.

Read her story!

Nefertiti the Spidernaut |
2017 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book

Read in Honor Military Families

Books that HONOR our military families and the sacrifices they make. It's hard for the kids when Daddy or Mom are posted overseas. Share these stories and encourage empathy for their sacrifices. #ThankYouForYourService #patriotic

This 4th of July is the right time to honor the sacrifices made by military families. When parents are assigned overseas or even just a remote place state-side, it’s hard for families. There are several children’s books that address the family dynamics of a military family.

While military children need these books, they are also important for all children to read and think about. The American way of life is supported by our military. Kids need to understand the sacrifices that make their own freedoms possible.

In honor of 4th of July and our military families, Mims House offers free an ebook of 11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph. (When you check out, use this coupon code: THANKS) In this poignant story, a child decides that while Daddy is gone for a year, it’s NOT a family photo album. She ruins every family photo until her father returns from his tour of duty.

11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph: A Military Family Story |

Download FREE, 11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph.

Use this coupon code when you check out: THANKS

Are you looking for science notebooks from American scientists? The Smithsonian Institution has an archive of the science notebooks from their staff for the last 150 years. They are available from the Field Book Project and we’ve included ten scientists in our book, MY STEAM NOTEBOOK.

Cover of MY STEAM NOTEBOOK by Darcy Pattison

Science Notebooks: Ornithologist or Bird Scientist

Martin Moynihan (1928-1996) spoke French, German and Spanish, and published his first scientific paper at the age of 18. For the Smithsonian, he worked in Panama from 1957-1974 helping to build the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island. To build the Panama Canal, some rivers were dammed to make Gatun Lake. That meant the existing tropical forest was covered with water. Only the tallest hills remained above water as islands. Barro Colorado has become one of the most studied tropical forests in the world.

Moynihan’s notebooks are fascinating because he used drawing and labeling extensively. This is a skill that kids can easily learn as they make observations.

Science Notebook example - Martin Moynihan used extensive drawings that he labeled.
Acc 01-096, Box 1, Folder 26; Page of field notes documents M. Moynihan’s behavioral observations of gulls (laridae) in South America.

Download a pdf excerpt from MY STEAM NOTEBOOK which includes all the information on Martin Moynihan. See his amazing field notes and learn other ways he used his science notebook!

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 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 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 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. |
eBooks are often the most economical way to provide book sets for a middle school book club.


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

RESOURCES for Book Clubs

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

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 |

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

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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 | 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.

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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.”

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.


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.


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.

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 |
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. |
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. |
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. |

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):


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.


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.

• 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, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.

See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020

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:

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!

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.

See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020

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, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.

See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020

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

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.

See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020

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:

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 | 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, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.

See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020

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

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